Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lincoln, MLK, and Korea at Night

Today we had a bit of a hiccup in schedule. Our visit to the Pentagon was unfortunately cancelled due to a schedule snafu. So we went to the library of Congress this morning and then to the Holocaust Museum (as planned) this afternoon.  The Library of Congress was a fascinating tour, beautiful building, but I am going to actually focus on two things in this post. One I did last night, the other this afternoon.

Last night about 9pm I went along with another member of our group to see some of the memorials "after dark." For those who have been in DC before, going to see the memorials lit up is one of the visual highlights of the trip, and this was no exception.  My companion on this trip is a young guy, about my age, a Korean national who served in the South Korean army. So our visit to the Korean war memorial and the prayer he offered in thanksgiving for those soldiers who gave their lives for his homeland, was especially poignant. As was his clear petition to God that peace and reunification might finally come to his homeland.

From there, we went to the Lincoln memorial, quite a sight to see in the dark, although the "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" ambiance is a bit lost when there are 1,000 other people running around taking the same picture as you. ;-) Yet to look out from that monument, over the reflecting pool, past the great obelisk of Washington and to the Capitol, it brings much of our nation's history into perspective. While yesterday was about honoring the past and remembering that you don't, as a leader, have to throw out everything from before, that experience was a reminder that clear breaks must often be made. The risk of split must be recognized but the threats of secession or lack of support cannot keep you from doing that which is right. While a united Korea would be a blessing, I do not believe my friend would be willing to have that unity at any cost.

The cost of leadership was well spelled out as we journeyed from Lincoln over to the new MLK memorial. There, at this newest and very powerful monument, the first to honor an individual who was a non-president on the mall, we see the importance of being willing to stand up to the status quo. Strikingly, King stands sentinel, across the tidal basin from Jefferson's memorial.  I am not sure that was intentional, but in a way the monument shows how this leader, 160 years after Jefferson, forced the issue and challenged the nation to take seriously, against the status quo, of whether we actually believed the words that "all men are created equal." To see Americans of all colors streaming into that monument, but especially to see our African American sisters and brothers walking around this place, obviously proud that finally a person of color has a monument on the mall, is striking.

The terror of what happens when leaders do not stand up and risk split. When pleasing the base becomes more important than doing what is right, is made starkly in the holocaust museum. We had the honor of an hour of time with a survivor of the holocaust. A man who is a spry 90 years old, who survived the horrors of the war, was almost worked to death, yet can speak of hope and promise of friends who survived and is a living reminder of the horrors that come from the reign of fear. Hitler appeased the status quo to the extreme.  He appealed to the basest of instincts of his base and in the end, rather than raising his followers moral plane (a requirement for Burn's transformational leadership), he lowered them into terror and fear.

1 John 14:8 reminds us that "Perfect love casts out all fear." In the museum, as we waited, I saw this plaque. These are little tiles painted by children and others who visited the museum. I found the use of that quote inspiring in the midst of the horror of this museum. Perfect love casts out fear, it allows us as leaders to challenge the status quo, to not remain stuck and to not fall for fear.  May we have more leaders who are willing to risk loss for the life of the world.

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