Gordon Atkinson at Real Live Preacher hit a nerve with this post. In it, he suggests that President Bush cut back on the nearly-$30-million Inaugural celebration, instead opting for a simple White House ceremony and forwarding the money onto relief agencies assisting those hit by the tsunamis this past weekend.
I don't think that Gordon was suggesting that Americans are stingy, as did UN emergency aid chief Jan Egeland the other day.
But I do think Gordon was saying that in light of the tsunami tragedies and other such events, it would be good for all of us to periodically examine our priorities.
While we certainly want to celebrate our American democracy and our unity as a nation when our presidents are inaugurated, we have taken to spending an enormous amout of money in doing so. (All of it private contributions.)
It seems reflective of the lavishness that often characterizes America today.
A friend of mine, a Republican officeholder, gained an electoral promotion in the 2004 general election. This came after he defeated a well-heeled and politically-connected opponent in a fiercely-contested primary in March. Before the primary, he and I had breakfast together one morning. He knew that, if initial projections proved accurate, he and his opponent were going to be spending a huge amount of money on their campaigns.
He shook his head and said wistfully, "When I think of all the good things that could be done with that money...like feeding hungry people...it makes me sick. But that's what the system has come to..."
There is so much excess in our society.
There is also much generosity.
Sometimes, as was true for my friend, we get caught in the trap of having to be excessive. If my friend had any hope of winning his election and using his abilities, principles, and integrity for the people of our area, he had to engage in fund-raising and campaign spending which he personally regards as being both excessive and offensive.
But what should we all do--presidents, paupers, plumbers, politicians, preachers, and others--when we have the choice between excess and generosity?
Speaking for myself, I must admit that more often than should be the case, I engage in selfish excess.
The tsunamis give us all the chance to examine our personal priorities and decide how we best can love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
In 1945, with America still at war (and his health in obvious decline), President Franklin Roosevelt opted for a simple Inaugural ceremony as he was sworn in for his fourth term.
Maybe with our nation at war now and the chance our President has to put a large amount of private money to good use, helping the victims of what is probably the greatest natural disaster in history, he could decide to simplify his Inaugural ceremony and send the money on to agencies like UNESCO, World Vision, Lutheran World Relief, and others.
Such a step, I think, would show respect to the young men and women risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan right now and provide needed funds for an important relief effort.
To my mind, it would be a very appropriate way to celebrate the greatness and the goodness of America.