Twenty-five years ago, my younger brother and I sat in my Uncle Herb and Aunt Sharon’s family room busily drawing pictures of the Statue of Liberty for a contest USA Today was having to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of its dedication. While my parents who were on a second honeymoon trip to New York City probably meant it as busy work during that rainy summer vacation, it is a treasured memory for me. While I can’t recall whether or not I won any awards for my artistic interpretations, I do recall making close to a dozen different renderings of Lady Liberty because I just couldn’t seem to get the torch to look just the way I wanted it. These memories danced through my head last night as my husband while playing his version of “Name that Tune” with YouTube, played Suite Madame Blue by Styx. Even though it was written about America in general, the Madame Blue references always conjure up images of the Statue of Liberty for me.
It is no coincidence that today marks the 125th Anniversary of the dedication of the statue, formally known as Liberty Enlightening the World. The Statue of Liberty is one of the best loved and most enduring symbols of our country and our highest ideals. you know, the French wanted to give the United States a memorable gift, an expression of the two nations friendship, in honor of our centennial in 1876, but the process got complicated and the Statue of Liberty wasn’t officially dedicated until Oct. 28,1886, ten years later.
It was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. Inspired by the monumental, colossal nature of the architecture of the pharoahs during a trip to Egypt, Bartholdi was compelled to create something equally monumental to capture the message of freedom. For his message Bartholdi drew from French essayists who sought to reestablish the idea of the French Republic. The statue is of a woman, derived from Libertas, ancient Rome’s goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression, and tyranny. Her raised right foot is on the move, not standing still.
He was also inspired by The Old Testament Book of Exodus which focuses on God’s gift of liberty to Israel through the leadership of Moses. For example, look at the rays of the crown on the Statue of Liberty. These rays are like those assigned to the figure of Moses in the tradition of European art. The homage to Moses can also be seen in the tablet Lady Liberty holds. Moses is commonly represented in European art holding in his hand the book of God’s law, in the form of the ten commandments. Bartholdi here builds on that image, for he saw the law of the American Constitution as rooted in the law of God taught by Moses.
Without question, Moses was one of the greatest servant leaders of world history. When God directed him to lead in a difficult situation, Moses hesitated before he obeyed, but he did obey. God showed Moses genuine understanding of his fears and concerns. God validated each of Moses statements and assured him that He would go with him and help him. Like Moses, all leaders will sometimes face difficult challenges and situations that seem impossible. At such times they need to follow Moses leadership example: Assess the situation, take their fears to God, listen for His response and obey.
Our fortieth president, Ronald Wilson Reagan embodied what it meant to be a servant leader. In his eulogy of Ronald Reagan, Former President George Bush relayed the following story, “Days after being shot, weak from wounds, he spilled water from a sink, and entering the hospital room aides saw him on his hands and knees wiping water from the floor. He worried that his nurse would get in trouble. The Good Book says humility goes before honor, and our friend had both, and who could not cherish such a man?” He knew that leadership is not about the self, but it is about self-sacrifice. He knew leadership is about putting the interests of those you serve above your own interests. He knew that leadership is not about me its about you. In early 1981 he said …there is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit. It wasnt about him. A leader must not feel he is above the people he leads, but that he is their servant. That how Reagan felt and acted. And thats why people followed him lovingly.
In present-day, Governor Sarah Palin also epitomizes what it means to be a servant leader. Governor Palin took a pay cut as mayor, rejected a pay increase as governor, and minimized the benefits her family members received while she served in office, foregoing potential per diems, laying off the chef, and selling the luxury jet. She reduced her personal travel expenditures by 85% as governor from that of her predecessor’s. She put the citizens of Alaska first. When she resigned from the governorship in 2009, she was also putting Alaskans first. She resigned from a job she loved and excelled at to save her state from people hell-bent on using politics to warp freedom. More recently when she made a decision to not seek the GOP nomination, she was acting as a servant leader. She assessed the situation, went to God in prayer, listened for His response and obeyed. She knows its all about Him and not her. She knows He knows whats best for America and her people. She knows God will use her to make a difference how He sees fit and that might be without a title at this point in time.
Speaking of people who make a difference yet have no title, Emma Lazarus, who wrote the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty comes to mind. She was the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family living in New York City. Although moving in elevated social circles, she became aware of the thousands of Jewish refugees arriving in New York, escaping from the waves of vicious anti-Semitism that were sweeping Europe during the latter part of the nineteenth century. There were far more than could possibly be absorbed by the city, and they were located in various miserable housing stations that offered very little to their exhausted and starving occupants. Emma involved herself, doing what she could to alleviate their suffering. Her famous sonnet came into being as part of a collection of writings, published in 1883, that was successfully sold to raise money for the installation of the Statue of Liberty.
Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp! cries she
With silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Unfortunately in today’s climate, those wonderful words are twisted by our government leaders and the Occupy Wall Street crowds. They seem to think that the famous ‘huddled masses stanza implores us to give everyone free healthcare, forgive student loans, and demand the government take from the rich and give to the poor. The protests in New York City remind me chillingly of Franz Kafka’s works. In all of his novels, Kafka created a nightmare world of unrelieved despair in which humanity acts inhumanely and in which pride triumphs over gentleness, violence, over peacefulness, oppression, over liberty. In 1913 Kafka wrote the novel Amerika.In it, he describes a boy on a boat sailing into New York harbor and, of course, standing on deck to see the Statue of Liberty. As the boy catches sight of the statue its upheld arm gleams with the glare of the sun, and he thinks he sees the statue holding aloft not a torch but a sword. Kafka intends this vision of a sword-wielding statue to stand as a symbol for the loss of the American ideal of freedom.
Written about America in decline during the 70s, Styx’s Suite Madame Blue is almost prophetic of the America we live in today. Some of the lyrics read, “Once long ago, a word from your lips and the world turned around, But somehow you’ve changed, you’re so far away”. The current climate in our country suggests we are doing just that, losing our sense of what freedom really means. As citizens of the “land of the free” we have extraordinary liberty. We are of all people most fortunate. No society has ever known as much liberty as we enjoy. However, what the occupy crowd seems to conveniently forget is the simple idea that freedom is not free. With freedom comes responsibility. Liberty alone is no virtue. It must be married to personal accountability, especially in a republic such as ours. True freedom, the kind that involves doing what ever one wants without that sense of responsibility only comes in the form of anarchy. Anarchy in turn totally destroys freedom by eventually putting a dictator at the door of our self-imposed and imprisoning zoo to keep us. At that point our country ceases to be the America it was founded to be. It becomes unrecognizable, a distortion of what once was. That scene in Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston’s character is riding on horseback and stumbles upon the wreckage of the Statue of Liberty, realizing that America had been destroyed comes to mind.
How do we keep that from happening? How do we keep America from becoming a distorted vision of what our founders intended? As citizens of the “land of the free” we have extraordinary liberty. We are of all people most fortunate. No society has ever known as much liberty as we enjoy. The question is can we use and not destructively abuse this liberty? A little 8 year old girl seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time listened intently as her dad told the story of how France had given the statue to the United States. Since 1886 she has stood at the entrance of New York Harbor lifting her torch of liberty to enlighten the world. That night the little girl had difficulty sleeping. She said, “Daddy, I am thinking of the beautiful lady out there all by herself with nobody to help her hold up her lamp. It is dark out there. Shouldn’t we be helping Miss Liberty to hold up her lamp in the darkness? Shouldn’t we all? How?
We help hold up the lamp of liberty when we exercise the personal responsibility that comes along with our freedom. We are all sovereign citizens of this nation and as such, leaders in our own right. Even though the majority of us will never hold public office or possess specific titles, we are obligated to be servant leaders in our local communities. Look to what Paul says to the Galatians, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). Like the differing variations of the torch I passionately colored in that contest many years ago, we won’t all hold up the torch of freedom in the same manner. We are all called to use our different talents to uphold the true meaning of the Statue of Liberty.
The real meaning can be seen in the date etched on the tablet she holds. It shows the date of the United States Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. We all know those familiar opening words of the Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We truly hold the power to turn the tide of truth in this nation. Like the end of the Styx song reads, Red, white, and blue, the future is all but past So lift up your heart, make a new start. On the Anniversary of the dedication of our beloved Lady of Liberty it is important to remember that it is up to us to carry that torch of freedom for America.