Lincoln Day

Happy Lincoln’s Birthday. Much is being made that both Lincoln and Darwin were born on the same day 200 years ago. both, it is said, “changed the world.” Darwin, of course, gave our culture the excuse to jettison religion. Lincoln, in saving the union, changed the United States from a plural to a singular, creating the powerfully centralized state power that is now trying to take over the economy. Lincoln freed the slaves, which was good. He was a complex man, but his legacy is complex too. For what should we honor him this day? What would be an appropriate way to honor him?

Bush says farewell

President Bush said good-bye to the nation as he prepared to leave office after eight years. Here is his farewell address. He has been extraordinarily hated and derided. And yet Barack Obama is apparently going to continue many of his policies. So what do you think future historians will say about him?

Was history made?

The election of Barack Obama and the financial meltdown are clearly events that will go down in history. Usually, though, it’s hard to say from near to the time what will prove to have lasting significance. Looking back on 2008, what events, people, ideas, trends, etc., do you think will be considered historic when scholars study our times decades from now? Or, put another way, for what will 2008 be remembered?

Happy Boxing Day

Other English-speaking lands celebrate the day after Christmas as Boxing Day. It’s a day to give gifts to the people who serve you. First it was servants, when even the middle class had servants, but then it extended to others, including pastors. Sounds like another holiday about vocation! A day to be thankful for the vocation of others who love and serve you as their neighbor. Let’s bring Boxing Day to America! Go here for a nice site dedicated to the Christian observance of Boxing Day.

UPDATE: Bruce Gee reminds us that it is also St. Stephen’s Day. Which means that today is the day we should sing “Good King Winceslas,” who went out not on Christmas but on “the Feast of Stephen,” and there, where the snow was deep and crisp and even, he met a poor man and brought him inside, thereby celebrating Boxing Day!

Recalling the Monroe Doctrine

Russia is trying to rebuild its connections with left-leaning governments. Thus we have the visit of Russian President Medvedev and a Russian naval flotilla to the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez. I wonder if the Russians are aware of The Monroe Doctrine, which forbids nations outside the Western hemisphere from starting colonies and establishing spheres of influence here. Or if the Russians are testing whether our new government will enforce that doctrine.

Lincoln photo unpacked

The National Portrait Gallery is opening a huge exhibit on Abraham Lincoln. It includes this photograph by Alexander Gardner in 1865, shortly before the president’s assassination, a print made from a glass plate that had cracked.

Lincoln in 1865

Art critic David Brown calls it “one of the four or five greatest and most moving photographs ever taken of a human being.”

The crack (which is rendered so crisply that it appears to be an indentation in the paper) both records and predicts. It symbolizes the broken country that Lincoln restored to unity but whose wound he couldn’t erase. It portends the violent, veering trajectory of the bullet that would kill him.

But the crack is only part of the story.

Lincoln’s face is careworn, his expression one of seemingly infinite patience. Some think he has a Mona Lisa smile. He is seated off-center and the light-sepia background is blank. The pose is intermediate between a conventional portrait and a half-body view.

Furthermore, Gardner’s camera catches only Lincoln’s lips, beard and part of his nose in focus. The far shoulder is a featureless blur. His ear — oversize, attentive — is indistinct. Even his left eye, which is as deep and complex as the vortex that took the Pequod down, isn’t quite sharp.

The impression is of Lincoln receding from present tasks into history.