Yesterday, I had the great fortune of celebrating my 45th Birthday! It was a laid-back, low-key day, where I was able to sleep a little later than normal while enjoying some precious quality time with my family. Later in the day, I was blessed to share the company of a few friends over good food and good music all while reflecting on good times in days gone by. No 45th birthday would be complete, however, without some reminders of one's own mortality. The results from a recent physical came in within a week of my birthday with some important reminders that as I face the 2nd half of my life, I need to pay strict attention to some medical "warning lights" on my life's dashboard to maximize my opportunities to minister and serve for as long as possible. The day went back on the upswing, however, as I received numerous greetings from all kinds of friends who have been a part of my life from around the country and the world. As sweet as the day on the whole was for me, my satisfying celebration is not likely what I will most remember about entering my 45th year of existence on this planet as a citizen of the United States of America. I will certainly remember that on my 45th birthday, the person elected to be the 44th President of the United States was a man named Barak Hussein Obama - for the first time in US history a man has been elected President who is an African American!
Mr. Obama's election serves as one of the most important milestones in Unites States history. It affirms in fact what our founding documents have claimed for over 2 centuries in principle - "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." It sends a message to the rest of the world that American pronouncements of liberty and justice for all are more than words, they are true American values that the people of the United States hold in the highest regard and are willing to live up to when it counts, all the way to the polling booth! It is watershed moment that signals a new day in US politics and signals in plain view that the ultimate American symbol of power is now attainable for those for whom it has been unreachable for the longest stretch of US history.
In light of this historical moment, many Americans old enough to remember Dr. Martin Luther King and the beginning of the US Civil Rights movement could not help but reflect on his last public speech on the eve of his death - the "Mountain Top" Speech. In this speech, Dr. King seems to have sensed that he was facing the untimely end of his life and declared that he had been to the Mountaintop and peered over into the "Promised Land." He further proclaimed that African Americans as a people would indeed get to the "Promised Land". The question that remains for us is this: Is this moment in history the definitive national ascent to the mountaintop that Dr. King spoke of as he looked forward to the "Promised Land" experience to come? I would answer, to an extent, but more climbing remains to be done. Mr. Obama alluded to Dr. Kings words in his victory speech and seems to answer this question himself by viewing his individual achievement in light of the collective needs and challenges facing the United States today. President-elect Obama said this:
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep… This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change
As I ponder Mr. Obama's words and the whole issue of "Mountaintop experiences", it occurs to me that most mountains are not isolated peaks that stand alone, but they are peaks connected to other mountains that form a whole mountain range. Certainly,the summit of racism and racial tension is among the most prominent and long-standing peaks of challenges in the mountain range of US history. The election of the nation's first African American president has positioned us to confront new challenges, problems and difficulties with a new perspective - a perspective from the top of one mountain that has the potential to enable us to scale other mountains with greater vigor and integrity. While it is true that everyone may not have reached the top of even this particular mountain, it is also true that a path has been cleared that opens new opportunities and hopes for others even as the nation's leaders are called to blaze new trails on other mountains that remain to be scaled.
This particular "mountaintop" - the election of an African American president - shows that America's greatest ideals are realistically available on the widest scale in US history. Even the majority population is better off for this, because the American Dream cannot be a total reality to anyone, until its sweetest fruits are available to everyone. Our climb is a collective one. Our journey must be a united one. Mr. Obama said it wonderfully last night:
…It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.
My hope is that in the midst of critical global and national issues, our nation will unite in support and a desire for success for the new president. It is understood that when conviction and principle lead us to disagree on particular issues, we should disagree with boldness, conviction and with all the resources that are available in our imperfect, but amazing system of government. Nevertheless, as a Christian, the Bible calls me to pray for my leaders and to do all within my ability to use my gifts, talents and abilities to make my community, country and the world more reflective of the goodness and holiness of God.
So, wherever we may find ourselves on the political scale, let us not lose the momentum created by the fact that we have witnessed one of the most important mountaintop experiences in America History! Now that we've reached one peak, let's take advantage of this new outlook, roll up our sleeves and get to the work of doing all the good we can, for as long as we can, to the greatest amount of people we can so that we can attain the "must scale" mountaintops of goodness, righteousness and holiness in every area of life. If we can achieve these goals to a significant degree, then perhaps we'll be able to secure the blessings of liberty for at least a few more generations and reach a few more mountaintops in the process. Until next time...