A Mirror, a Choice and a Question for July 4

Jul 1, 2011 by

As I learned in visiting last week, there’s a question next to the mirror.  It’s a quote from Dr. King, who won the Nobel Peace Prize. Just 1.5 miles away at President Jimmy Carter’s Library, there’s a comment about choice. Each of these items: the mirror, the question and the comment, are relevant for July 4.

The mirror allows each visitor to look at her or himself.

The question from Dr. King offers his view that, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

The question from President Carter reads, “God gives us the capacity for choice. We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes, and we must.”

Early in his Presidential Inaugural Speech, Carter quoted one of his favorite public school teachers from Plains, Georgia, a woman named Julia Coleman who had a deep influence on him. She told him, and many other students, “We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.”

As the buildings honoring them make clear, neither King nor Carter were perfect people. Each made many mistakes.

They shared many things, along with Georgia as a birthplace. Among other things they shared a deep desire to bring people together, and to work for progress.  They also agreed about the importance of not only individual rights, but also individual responsibilities.

So that brings us to July 4.

For many of us, the upcoming holiday will include time off from work, a picnic and perhaps fireworks. We do these things in part to honor the birth of our country. We also celebrate the courage and commitment of those who came before us. They helped to keep and expand our freedoms.  All are very appropriate.

After touring both the King and Carter Centers last week, I have another idea about appropriate activities for July 4. Isn’t it worth spending a little time reading and reflecting on the quotations above, and then resolving to do something to help others in need?

These are complex and challenging times. As Ms. Coleman urged Carter, “We must adjust to changing times.”  As King pointed out in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”, “We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

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