This secondary assembly takes a SEAL perspective and concentrates on forgiveness, using the life and career of Abraham Lincoln as an example of someone who was prepared to restore broken relationships. It encourages students to reflect on how they could restore such relationships themselves
You will need two readers.
Reader 1: Two hundred years ago, Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky in the USA and later moved to Illinois and became a politician. Then, in 1861, he became president.
Reader 2: The country was on the edge of a civil war between the Southern States, who believed that slavery was acceptable, and the Northern States, who thought that it was not. Lincoln had been elected due to his support in the North, with many hoping that he would end the institution of slavery.
Reader 1: Lincoln was determined that what he saw as an evil practice would be ended. The Southern States decided to leave the USA and declared themselves a new nation – the Confederate States of America – under the leadership of Jefferson Davis.
Reader 2: A bitter civil war followed, with the nation, and even families, split over the issue. It ended in 1865, and Lincoln was re-elected. In his second inaugural address, he promised to bring the people back together. In another famous speech soon after this, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln reached out to both parts of the country, talking about the bravery of all and the need to build a land to celebrate freedom.
Reader 1: However, the time that Lincoln had to do this was to be limited, as he was soon after assassinated by a man called John Wilkes Booth. Thankfully, however, the dream to try and re-unite the states did not die with him, as America continued to follow what Lincoln began with a process later described as ‘Reconstruction’.
Reader 2: Lincoln was a person who tried to build bridges and relationships with people and communities. For example, he invited into his cabinet a man called Stanton, who had bitterly opposed Lincoln becoming his party’s candidate for president and had openly mocked him.
Reader 1: However, Lincoln was able to look past these insults and see that, regardless of his attitutude towards him personally, he was able to do a good job for the country.
Reader 2: Consequently, when Lincoln was buried people said that it was Stanton who cried most, and who gave the most inspiring memorial address.
Reader 1: It was Lincoln’s generosity and ability to forgive that allowed Stanton to achieve high office.
Reader 2: It was also his ability to forgive that allowed Lincoln to forgive the rebels in the South who had defied his leadership, and to give the nation a new start where colour did not matter.
Reader 1: In 2008, another man who had made his political base in Illinois was elected president – Barack Obama. Once in office, President Obama gave a book about Lincoln to all the members of his cabinet, to remind them of how Lincoln had overcome divisions in the country.
To learn to forgive is one of the most difficult things we can do as human beings. Lincoln showed that he could forgive a whole community, as well as an individual, and in doing so he was able to change things for the better for both.
Lincoln was a man who had been inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ. ‘Love your enemies,’ Jesus had taught; which in practical terms means: try to show respect and consideration to them even when they have not. This was the way in which he was able to see past the abuse of Stanton and give him the chance to serve his country.
Forgiveness was also important when it came to how Lincoln treated the Southern States after the Civil War: they had to be treated with dignity, not made to feel humiliated after their defeat. Lincoln appeared to follow another of Jesus Christ’s teachings here: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. He chose to strive to make peace, when others may have encouraged him to disregard or even punish those who had been critical of him or at war with his ideas.
When we fall out or argue with others, we can become obsessed with who should make the first move to resolve the matter; we might feel that if we are the injured person, the one who hurt us has to get things rolling. That does not have to be the way — we can choose to initiate peace, even if we were not the one who started the fight. In doing that, we might be helping the other person to realise the pain they caused, and, more importantly, we are giving them an opportunity to put things right. Think about the relationships that you have – how many of them need to be restored, and could be renewed by you doing something to improve them?
Lincoln helped to make a friend from a man who had been his enemy. He helped to heal a country that had been at war with itself. And he enabled many to enjoy true freedom for the first time.
You may use this as a prayer or an affirmation:
May I choose the way of peace,The way to build bridges of understanding to others
And never the walls of hatred and misunderstanding.
May I choose to respect all people,Especially when I find it difficult to like them.
May I make choices that help others to grow to be what they should be.
May I free myself from the slaveries Of mistrust and lack of forgiveness that make me less than
I should be.
Lincoln once talked about how all peopleWere equal and should be treated as such.May I make sure that I treat all with care,
Treat all with the kindness that I seek from others.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2009
About the author: Cavan Wood