Holy Everything: Inaugural speeches reflect wisdom of the past

President Donald Trump has taken the oath of office, and he has pledged to "faithfully execute the office of President of the United States."

A page has turned, and we have entered into a new season in our nation's history. A changing of the guard has taken place, and a different administration is now stepping into their leadership roles.

As we imagine what these next four years might be like, it is useful to pause and look back. It is a chance to reflect upon the perspectives of past presidents … to hear their inaugural optimism … to learn from those who have gone before us. History is a marvelous teacher when we make time to listen to her wisdom.

Today's column is a collection of quotations from past presidential inaugural addresses. May they give you a sense of direction and purpose as together we embark into the tenure of a new president.

On the importance of holding leaders accountable: "Every citizen owes to the country a vigilant watch and close scrutiny of its public servants and a fair and reasonable estimate of their fidelity and usefulness … this is the price of our liberty and the inspiration of our faith in the Republic." — Grover Cleveland, 1885


On the importance of obeying the law: "The officer covenants to serve the whole body of the people by a faithful execution of the laws, so that they may be the unfailing defense and security of those who respect and observe them, and that neither wealth, station, nor the power of combinations shall be able to evade their just penalties or to wrest them from a beneficent public purpose to serve the ends of cruelty and selfishness." — Benjamin Harrison, 1889

On the responsibility to care for the earth: "The putting into force of laws which shall secure the conservation of our resources … including the most important work of saving and restoring our forests and the great improvement of waterways … all proper government functions which must involve great expenditure if properly performed." — William Taft, 1909

On advancing freedom and equity for all planetary inhabitants: "My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man." — John Kennedy, 1961

On true power: "There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people." — George H. W. Bush, 1989

On diversity as a gift: "Our rich texture of racial, religious, and political diversity will be a godsend in the 21st century. Great rewards will come to those who can live together, learn together, work together, forge new ties that bind together." — Bill Clinton, 1997

God who is fully present in all times and places, we pray for your sincere and lasting guidance. We pray for the president of the United States and all who serve in positions of leadership nationally and abroad. Inspire us to live with humility. Equip us to imagine the possibility of peace. Empower us to root ourselves in service. Motivate us to prioritize justice and equity for all people. Connect us with one another, with creation, and with you. Into your hands, gracious God, we entrust our prayers, our country, and our world. Lead us as we follow you. Amen.

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