Lincoln is easily my favorite president. Blending his speeches, his decision-making in the Emancipation Proclamation, and his tragic murder, the Lincoln mystique has always drawn me in. Turn all of that over to Daniel Day Lewis for a magical delivery of Lincoln as if he was walking and talking before me, and the result is amazing. Obviously, some important people agreed as Lewis won for Best Actor at the Oscars. But what can we see from Lincoln that can inform our lives, right now?
I propose that we can see a model of leadership that merits our consideration.
1. Power of Story: Lincoln obviously understood that spending time with his subordinates, telling stories and jokes, breaking bread together. The Ethan Allen vignette might be my favorite, showing off a sense of humor that is mentioned in some history books but never fully makes our education of “Honest Abe.” One of the truths I’ve learned as a pastor is that you can tell someone the truth in a bullet point paragraph or tell them the truth through a story; one way leads to boredom and potential anger, while the other leads to unlocking their perspective and allowing them to work things out on their own. [For the record, Jesus taught in… parables, allowing people to see truths through everyday situations they would’ve understood.]
2. Devotion to Family: Sally Field definitely won me over with her portrayal of crazed First Lady Mary Todd, and Joseph Gordon Levitt was his typical excellence. But the way that the Lincolns worked in private wasn’t the same way they operated in public, and that means there’s more weight to carry around. Lincoln’s interactions with Todd over the loss of their child and the involvement of Robert (Gordon Levitt) in the war, and his interaction with his two sons, showed off the simple, stoic nature of this president. While Lincoln sacrificed much as the face of the nation, he also seemed to insulate his family (as best he could) from the trials around him. Making time for his family and protecting their privacy, he determined the best course of action for them, and worked hard to keep it steady.
3. Boldness & Vision: Is our country still segregated without Lincoln? Would women vote? What does it mean that Lincoln saw the war, which had already cost so much, as a way to make humankind free forever? I know some will argue that Lincoln prolonged the war, but didn’t he potentially cause less bloodshed over time? Having temporarily liberated the slaves to fight, what would have been the end result if he had allowed slavery to be perpetuated? His argument, quoting Euclid’s statement, “Things which equal the same thing also equal one another,” shows that he had a big picture view of what humans were worth, and that he knew he was supposed to see it through.
4. Call: In one scene with a few soldier/clerks, Lincoln asked if they thought people were born to a certain time for a certain purpose. He basically asserted a question about “call,” about what we are MEANT to do with the time that we have on the earth. He wanted to do what God had appointed him to do in this time, and he saw the impact that equality for all men could bring about. Whether outspoken or not, he exhibited a “kingdom” attitude about the world he lived in, wanting it to be better than it was when he first arrived.
Watching Lincoln, I’m impressed by the acting, the scenes, the costumes, the flow of the script, but even after I watch, I’m left wondering how I might live my life better thanks to Lincoln’s example.