Celebrating Veterans Day makes me think of a trip I took to Washington, D.C.
Other great nations' capitals celebrate the glory and grandeur of power and might, conquests and empires. Washington is a celebration of individual liberty and self-government.
The monuments there remind us of the national leaders and average citizens who inspired and united Americans in liberty with their words and deeds.
At his monument, Thomas Jefferson's words in his preamble to the Declaration of Independence proclaim the birth of a new and different nation: "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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ... ."
The Constitution, preserved in Washington, allows the American people to live out these words by protecting each person's right to believe and not believe as they choose. There would be no religious test for citizenship. Each citizen is free to live out his/her faith and make political decisions as his/her faith-imbued conscience dictates.
This was a whole new understanding of government and liberty. This is why Americans placed at the top of the monument to George Washington the Latin (universal language) version of "To God be the Glory." In what may seem an irony, this is why today the United States is one of the most religious countries in the world and has more distinctive religions than any other nation.
The Lincoln monument dominates D.C., not with stone but with words. There you read Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which begins by calling all citizens to remember the words of the Declaration of Independence and ends with a call to national resolve: "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
The King memorial takes Americans back to the day in August 1963, 100 years after the Battle of Gettysburg, when the Baptist pastor climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to deliver to the nation its greatest political sermon.
Martin Luther King Jr. began his sermon by calling on all to remember Lincoln's words about a rebirth of freedom and ended his sermon with a ringing "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."
The monument to Franklin Roosevelt is there because, when much of the world was surrendering freedom to fascism, Roosevelt helped Americans keep faith in democracy and helped lead the world's democracies in defeating fascism's exultation in state power and in the purposeful destruction of individual lives and freedom.
There are the monuments to those who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and — on a hill outside of town — there is Arlington Cemetery with its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
These are the monuments to the people from every walk of life in the land of the free and the home of the brave who fought for liberty for themselves and for future generations.
One of the great commands of Judaism and Christianity is, "Remember!"
Remember God's acts in history. Remember who and whose we are. Remember our birthright; live accordingly.
Or else, individuals and nations are left only with despair and abuse of power when confronted with — as the great Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn brought home — the innate evil that cuts across every heart and community and that unrecognized and unsuppressed hurts and destroys.
If you can, go to the nation's capital. See all that calls you to remember. See the Lincoln Memorial, the Iwo Jima statue and the Korean War Memorial at dusk. The twilight will help you sense the solemnity and hallowedness of the moment.