Hail to the Chiefs

When we moved from Illinois 18 months ago, one of the little things that helped our family conquer homesickness was the very road that got us to Mercer Island. If we hopped on Interstate 90 going east, we would eventually find ourselves in downtown Chicago. It’s the same Interstate, but in the Windy City, I-90 is called The Kennedy Expressway. Funny, Chicagoans also call another one of their major tollways The Eisenhower.

In the 11 years we lived in Chicago, I found it curious that names of favorite presidents were given to roadways as a way of honoring their memories. It was supposed to be a tribute. But given the predictable bottlenecks and potholes on both the Eisenhower and the Kennedy, I wonder if Dwight or Jack would really think it an honor.

I also wonder if our past chief executives would appreciate the way we “honor” their memories each Presidents’ Day Weekend. Instead of contemplating their service to our nation, we typically just enjoy extra time at home watching collegiate basketball on TV, tackling projects that were sidelined during football season, or parting with a handful of “Georges” at Hollywood Video. As with most national holidays, we tend to forget their significance and simply have fun.

But speaking of videos, there are some great ones about presidents. For example, “Thirteen Days” is a fascinating account of President Kennedy’s lonely courage during the Cuban Missle Crisis.

Oliver Stone’s “JFK” and “Nixon” are not entirely accurate, but a fascinating peek at a couple of our more controversial leaders. When it comes to Nixon and the Watergate era, “All the President’s Men” is worth watching again.

The musical “1776” is a whimsical look at the Revolutionary War. It’s much more interesting than the lectures you endured in high school history.

You may have to search hard, but if you can find a video version of “Franklin and Eleanor,” the TV mini-series from the 70s, you won’t be sorry. It’s excellent.

So is the old Henry Fonda movie “Young Mr. Lincoln.” Or how about watching a former president who was first an actor? Ronald Reagan is a guaranteed favorite in “Knute Rockne: All American” or “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

And don’t forget about some favorite films that are fictional but still celebrate the power of the presidency. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is a classic. “Forrest Gump” creatively incorporates real-life footage of actual presidents.

One of my favorites in the fictional genre is “Dave.” Although it’s not based on a real-life president, it is a curious commentary on the kinds of pressures and temptations real life First Families might face.

Instead of letting future Presidents’ Day weekends become simply another three-day break, why not watch a ‘presidential’ movie with your family? Encourage them to watch with an eye toward discussions afterwards.

What a creative way to be intentional about this national holiday. In such an informal setting, families can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of our national leaders. Perhaps in these conversations you’ll note that great people are not perfect.

And while we’re talking about presidents, it shouldn’t take Presidents’ Day weekend to encourage your people to spend some time praying for our president and his family. After all, our leaders are God’s servants and are worthy of our intercession on their behalf.

According to the Scriptures, “All governments have been placed in power by God.’ (Romans 13:1 NLT) There is a Web site devoted to helping us know how to pray for our president.


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Pastor Greg Asimakoupoulos is the head of the Mercer Island Covenant Church and a regular contributor to the Reporter.

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