I’ll bet you’ve heard this phrase: ‘Four score and seven years ago’. And this one: ‘That the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’ These words are part of our shared ‘American’ identity, aren’t they?
I recently came across a short film by the acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns. The film features Elmo and Murray (from Sesame Street) learning about the Gettysburg Address. Like Elmo, in his five minute conversation with Joan Ganz Cooney, I began pondering and questioning too.
I’ll wager that most of us are familiar with the gist of ‘The Gettysburg Address’, but have we really dove into the wisdom of Lincoln’s words? Does a short address at Gettysburg during the dark days of the Civil War have anything to offer us today, in 2017?
I’ll leave that up to each of us who are ready and willing to open ourselves to the words and wisdom of one of our nation’s most treasured leaders.
Following is the 272 word Gettysburg Address. Below are questions for reflection.
The Gettysburg Address
November 19, 1863
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Today’s ‘leaping’ exercise: Read the Gettysburg Address slowly, 3 times. Highlight words and/or phrases that stand out for you. Write them in your journal or type them so the words can ‘sink in’. Ask yourself these questions about the words you have written from the address:
- What is it about the nature of these words and phrases that draws me to them?
- What do I believe about them?
- What do I see happening in the U.S. regarding these words in 2017?
- What would I like to change? What would I like to foster?
- What is my role?
- What inspired action can I take from these words?
- Read the following from The preamble of the United States Constitution:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
- How can I foster ‘we the people’ (as stated above) in my daily life?
- What is my role as a citizen of the United States?
Thank you, Mr. Lincoln and our founding fathers/mothers – Joan Kappes
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