The PBS Program "The American Experience" did some documentaries on presidents of the United States that have made me think not only about the responsibilities of that office, but about a citizen's responsibility to the country's chief executive. Whoever the next president is, he will, like his predecessors, face daunting challenges. A scene from President Truman's biography makes the point poignantly.
At the height of the Korean War, Mr. Truman was in the White House with his aides one day, working on a speech he had to give. It wasn't an easy time in his administration. There were mounting casualties in Korea, protests from soldiers' families, the threat of China entering the conflict, the difficulties (now all too familiar) of fighting a "limited" war. At one point the president slumped in his chair. "There must be a thousand people who can do this job better than I can," he said. He sank his head in his hands and was quiet. After a while he looked up and said, "But the job is mine to do, so I have to do the best I can."
Regardless of one's political persuasion, it's hard to deny that world leaders who sincerely do their best in incredibly demanding jobs need all the help they can get. Hearing about that scene in the White House made me wonder, Do any of us pray enough for the leadership of our countries?
The love-motivated prayer of even one person benefits others the way a lantern in a dark place benefits everyone around it. To affirm with all your heart that there is a higher-than-human wisdom that directs creation is a prayer that lights the world. God is not remote from those who need wisdom. He is always-present Mind, lighting the way for anyone honestly seeking to do what's right. Knowing this truth is something we can do for any president or national leader.
The Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, describes something else we can do: "Holding the right idea of man in my mind," she writes, "I can improve my own, and other people's individuality, health, and morals; whereas, the opposite image of man, a sinner, kept constantly in mind, can no more improve health or morals, than holding in thought the form of a boa-constrictor can aid an artist in painting a landscape" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 62).
The "right idea" of anyone is his or her goodness as an individual expression of God. Even if we're just listening to a candidate give a stump speech, we can stay with the right idea. God is everywhere, expressing intelligence and truth through His creation. Holding to this idea is prayer that corrects what isn't intelligent or truthful, and brings goodness to light.
On the other hand, keeping people's faults in mind, emphasizing their mistakes, sheds no light for anyone. The Bible decries the poisonous tongue that blesses God, and then curses God's creation, made in His image. "These things ought not so to be," it says (James 3:8-10).
What each of us can do for our country's leaders is to sincerely want to help them improve, just as we would want that kind of help ourselves. Even when leaders are doing something we vigorously dislike and feel obligated to criticize, we can still stay true to the right idea of them as the image of God. God is the only influence on His image, and it's innate in each of us to respond to this influence. Truths like this, prayed with love, help everyone see the way more clearly.
In 1908, a Boston newspaper asked Mrs. Eddy, then one of America's most famous women, for a statement about her politics. She answered, "I have none, in reality, other than to help support a righteous government; to love
God supremely, and my neighbor as myself" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pg. 276).
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