I love history. I love it, not so much for the timeline aspect of it—all those dates. I love history for the stories of the people, some famous, some not, and how they lived, how they thought. And one of my very favorite people from history is Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is February 12. I am inspired by his story—how he rose from impoverished obscurity to become, perhaps, the greatest President in U.S. history. Maybe my interest stems from Lincoln having been born in Kentucky like my mother, but I have been interested in him since a young age. I have read about Abraham Lincoln extensively. I have read his own words exhaustively. A few years ago, I even went on a Lincoln pilgrimage, of sorts, starting in Kentucky with stops in southern Indiana before arriving in Springfield, Illinois where Lincoln lived the longest.
“You know, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t perfect,” people have said to me when I have mentioned my interest. “He had some pretty racist ideas.” And, believe me, I do know that about him. And I think that it is important, when we study history, that we confront reality. I do not find the truth to be at all threatening. These people from history, like Abraham Lincoln—the truth is, none of them were perfect. Theologically, having accepted long ago the fallen nature of the creation, I also long ago gave up searching for perfection in people–in Abraham Lincoln, in me, in you. But I still find Lincoln’s story compelling. For all his imperfections and mistakes, he still made a huge contribution to humanity. Indeed, his imperfections, his mistakes make his story even more compelling to me because they make him human like me, like you. And his story gives me hope that making the world better is not the exclusive province of the superhuman, but is always the work of regular people like me, like you.
The month of February calls us all to learn more about our history. There’s Presidents Day, focusing attention, not just on Abraham Lincoln, but also George Washington. It is Black History Month, giving us the chance to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to our country as well as to reckon with the impact race has had here. My hope is that we will embrace learning the truth about the people whose very human stories make up our history, inspiring each one of us to do the good that we can do to make our community, our country, our world better.
–Pastor Don Steele