Today, there is a great debate over whether our nation is exceptional -- and if so, why and how. Our exceptionalism begins with the Declaration of Independence, which states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
We don't believe that our rights began with leaders, monarchs or reigning military power, but with God. These God-given rights are bestowed upon people who then loan them to the government. This understanding that people's rights begin with God makes our nation exceptional. Almost halfway through his first term, President Abraham Lincoln wrote in a private note, "The will of God prevails. In great contests, each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war, it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party -- and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect his purpose."
Lincoln understood that he was but an instrument in the hand of God, and that the will of God would prevail.
This Lenten season, possibly we should focus on creating rather than denying. Creating the underlying values that lead to virtues. Creating space and time for God to act. Developing courage in life as well as in facing death, patience with ourselves as well as with others and God, and cultivating hope, which leads to action, participation and solutions rather than reactions.
It is these building blocks that create the personal and national character that is so very important to us individually and to our nation collectively.