Thought for the Day 22/11/2013 - Brian Draper

Whether or not you remember where you were when JFK was shot (and like many others these days, I’m too young), President Kennedy remains potently iconic. In fact, a recent poll in the US preserves him as the most popular president there’s been, with an 85-per-cent approval rating - which the American historian Robert Dallek believes is down to the fact that he offers “a blank slate” ... Essentially, we can project our own often unfulfilled hopes onto an icon like him.

Prof Dallek told the BBC’s Mark Mardell that in America “People want a better life... They want to think their children are going to do better. And they associate this with Kennedy’s youth, his promise, possibility.” All of which were freeze-framed so shockingly, 50 years ago today, in Dallas.

It’s impossible to tell, of course, what might have been, had the president lived. Who knows if Kennedy would have poured as many troops into Vietnam as Lyndon Johnson, for example? Perhaps the world would have been a better place today; perhaps that’s wishful thinking.

Whichever - Kennedy’s enduring appeal surely lies in the fact that even though most of the hopes placed in him went unfulfilled, they also stay untarnished. Presidents and prime ministers of more recent memory who came to power exciting similar passionate optimism might later have admitted that it’s hard for any leader who lives to fully live up to the hype.

What the icon - the blank slate - of JFK does affirm, albeit still painfully, is that it’s very human for us to keep hoping, and hoping for something or someone who can change things for the better.

The followers of Jesus, another leader cut down cruelly, must have felt the pain of dashed hopes acutely, when they heard news of his death. They could have been crushed simply by the weight of what might have been. Yet something intriguing happened in those earliest days of the Church: the Spirit of Christ lived on so palpably within Jesus’ followers that St Paul could write, a few years later, of “the glorious riches of the mystery which is Christ in you”.

For that rapidly growing movement, their hope was no longer focused out there somewhere, dependent on external circumstance or someone else’s actions; but it was real for them on the inside.

Which is perhaps a principal we can draw from, as we reflect today on what the iconic JFK may mean to us personally. If we're not just to indulge in nostalgic wishful thinking, hope must live here within us, so that we ourselves can live in hope of fuflilling the promise, the possibility, of that better life, that better world.

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