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Abraham Lincoln, More Like Baberaham Lincoln!

September 17, 2012

I could probably watch this trailer a hundred times and not get bored. I don’t mean to gush, but Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln – almost perfect (he is British after all).

Lincoln taps into something deep in the American psyche. He troubles us not as a man but an icon. Lincoln the man means very little to us, and just as well – it is Lincoln as a symbol that so moves the American conscience. American’s share this collective guilt about our past (and our present), we have these ideals that have been set before us that we unceasingly fail to uphold. Lincoln at some level atones for our guilt, justifies our existence as a people, and literally redeemed us. Lincoln is the American Christ.

The reason why Lincoln has such a vaunted position in the American pantheon is that he, above all others, is a symbol of our conscious and unconscious hopes. All other presidents before and after are judged by his standard, not even Washington holds the place in our hearts that Lincoln does. Washington may have liberated us from the tyrant “out there” but Lincoln liberated us from the inner tyrant. This is perhaps why no one is bothered by Lincoln’s sternness, in fact it is the endearing and enduring quality of his legacy. Its probably not true that Lincoln knew no joy, but it was hidden beneath the gravity of his calling.

The Lincoln story moves me because he is a type, in him I glimpse a shimmer of the true Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Though Lincoln perished for the sins of his people, he could not rise and usher them into their new freedom. Guilt remained, blood still stains the hands, and the American conscience remains spoiled by its past. Perhaps though, the clearest gleam I see in Lincoln is his aforementioned sternness, because this fits nicely with how Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels: a joy that is hidden beneath the gravity of his calling. Chesterton said it best:

Joy, which is the small publicity of the pagan, is the giant secret of the Christian… The tremendous figure which fills the Gospel towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomats are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up that mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

This is why he is but a flicker of true light. I thank God for Lincoln, but I tremble for Christ.

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