What would Rabbi Olan say is the real question for America today?
Mid-century Americans’ lives celebrated their victories and proclaimed Abraham Lincoln as the very exemplar of all that is American. We still invoke the mantra of hard work and determination as keys to upward mobility in this land, while holding a mental picture of a shoeless Kentucky farm boy who rises from poverty to become President of the United States. Claiming that Abraham Lincoln, the true American, believed in God and responded to God’s moral demands, Rabbi Olan states:
“It is one hundred years ago that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. He left us the vision of the Ideal American who, among other things, does not take the name of the Lord in vain. He lived as he wanted the country he loved so much to live, reverent and dedicated to God’s moral demands.”
With inimitable grace and wisdom – marked by stern speech and vivid use of prophetic imagery – Rabbi Olan challenges mid-century citizens of the USA to self-examination. Theirs was a world marked by the first visit of The Beatles to the US, and by Bob Dylan’s reminder that The Times, They Are A-changin’! However, as Rabbi looked closer; he saw disenfranchised people protesting unconstitutional voting restrictions, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X assassinated, ignominiously, in the presence of their wives and small children, and read about Secretary Bundy’s recommendation that President Johnson use the US military to initiate air strikes against North Vietnam.
The Four Horsemen’s conquest, war, famine, and pestilence certainly seem to be somehow incompatible with National celebration. Rabbi Olan juxtaposes the celebrations that bind us as “one nation under God” with our fervor for the American ideals and freedoms: of the press, to keep and bear arms, of religion, to peaceably assemble, etc. Even today, America is a nation in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Yes, as we prepare to celebrate July 4, 2020, let’s read this sermon to discover why Rabbi Olan asks:
“…do we really want God? …. Do we mean what Lincoln meant when we teach our children to say ‘one nation under God?’”
*Written by Lillie R. Jenkins Walker.*