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America's twin strengths Print E-mail
By Bill Webb
Word&Way Editor

During the past couple of weeks, Americans have celebrated a life and an event that together define what a country is like at its best.

The event was a ritual that occurs every four years in our government -- the inauguration of our top elected leaders, particularly the President of the United States. The ceremony itself is solemn. It involves pledges to faithfully carry out the duties of elected office.
Webb
The solemness is underscored with a hand placed on a Bible. The oath of office -- as we call it -- is traditionally regarded as a promise made between leaders and the citizenry, and quite often as a pledge between leaders and God Himself.

One could debate the necessity of all the inauguration parties and dinners. Many do debate the millions of dollars in costs associated not only with the ceremony itself but the related events. But the truth is that people from all across the world tune in with interest to our inaugurations. Some do so with envy, because we use the occasion to underscore all the good our democracy represents.

The other celebration -- this one held annually -- is the commemoration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. To be sure, Dr. King is not our nation's only hero, but we may not have any who were greater.

Celebrating this life reminds us we live in a country that has never been and never will be perfect. That describes every nation. The King holiday reminds us that we have the freedom in America to point out the flaws in our system, or sometimes the shortcomings of our government or our citizenry.

For all of our good, we are not yet as a nation or as a people all we can and -- by the grace of God, will -- be.

We should cherish the system that has carried us this far as Americans. It is a wonderful privilege that we regard as a right to be able to cast a vote to select leaders. We need not worry that we will awake some morning and find a new government that has come to power while we slept. We value the force of the vote.

Dr. King and others discovered that calls for change for the good can be risky -- even in America. That's because America shares one thing in common with every other country in the world: We are made up of people. Not everyone appreciates a prophetic word. Some feel the only good prophet is a silent prophet.

Still, our system provides avenues for dissent. It is one of our most cherished rights. A citizen can stand on a street corner and criticize -- rightly or wrongly -- some aspect of American government or American life. Some do so carelessly; dissent is a precious right that must be utilized prudently. For people of faith, it must be used prayerfully.

Dr. King appealed to Scripture to call a nation to repentance; ministers -- many of them -- do that today. Such people leave as great a legacy as those who serve in the highest elected positions with integrity, honesty and courage.

A perfect system? Obviously not. We struggle to live by principle. Some don't seem to care much for principle. But our system has safeguards for turning out those who should not have been elected in the first place. Or those who succumbed to the thirst for power and influence, neglecting their responsibility to render true service.

May we help our children and grandchildren appreciate values like freedom, opportunity, honesty, courage and others that characterize our nation when it is at its best. We have much to celebrate.

We live in the greatest of modern nations -- and prophetic voices can help us be greater. Such a deal!
 
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