"What a wonderful gift you gave us. ... Over his distinguished career in the Foreign Service, Chris won friends for the United States in far-flung places. He made those people's hopes his own. During the revolution in Libya, he risked his life to help protect the Libyan people from a tyrant, and he gave his life helping them build a better country." -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accepting the body of slain Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens at Joint Base Andrews
"No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline." -- Kofi Annan
Ambassador Stevens was called a patriot and hero. Slain with three other Americans in a U.S. diplomatic mission under siege in Libya, Ambassador Stevens was rightly described by the U.S. President as someone who "loved this country and ... chose to serve it and served it well." President Obama stated that all three men killed "had a mission, and they believed in it. They knew the danger, and they accepted it. They didn't simply embrace the American ideal; they lived it, they embodied it."
Justice Louis D. Brandeis used to say that, "[t]he only title in our democracy superior to that of President is the title of citizen." The President, a Constitutional scholar, knows that people and countries grow into the kind of citizenship that makes freedom and justice for all achievable and sustainable. Our union is still imperfect after centuries. It took years to frame the Constitutional tenets about which we continue to debate, but on which the heart and soul of this great nation depend.
It should escape no one's scrutiny that this Ambassador had transplanted his deeply held American values to a new venture. In fact, he had to do more than go out of his way to get to Libya. A student of the world at a young age, shaped by the Peace Corps, Chris Stevens decided to risk his life as Libya was endeavoring to overthrow a dictator only months ago. He had earned the respect and trust of people who made it possible for him to land by private ship on the shores of a troubled nation and serve as a midwife with others trying to birth freedom and the rule of law.
Most of us know that Teddy Roosevelt was a Rough Rider. Fewer may know that he said, "No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care." Stevens was a very smart guy. He loved the people of the region and its cultures. Not every diplomat or most of us have the gift; he more than engaged with people across ethnic and cultural barriers. People say that he actually fell in love with them.
And Ambassador Stevens brought with him an abiding principle which we seem to be debating during this election cycle in America. Teddy Roosevelt articulates well the premise: "This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in." Stevens knew that would be as true for Libya as their new country emerged as it is for us.
The Church has often celebrated the sainthood of people because they went to a far-flung place and put themselves in harm's way. They were ordinary men and women who cared about those on the margins. In some cases these saints were raised up among their own. They led the struggle for the abundant life meant for all for their own people and countries. Others came among strangers and saw in "the other" a sign of God's love. They knew that the ongoing Divine Commitment to bless what is ordinary and common is God's way of being known. Again and again the ordinary becomes holy and what had been cast down is raised up.
Abraham Heschel used to teach that what made the Prophets so unpopular was that they reminded Israel that God loves justice even more than the chosen. And that being chosen was not a matter of status but of job description -- called to draw the world toward the Light of peace and justice for all.
When Ambassador Stevens asphyxiated in what was supposed to be a safe room in that Consulate, the very air of freedom which he had helped bring to Libya had been contaminated and sucked out making it impossible for him to live. When he was found and rushed to the hospital where he died, he was covered with smoke and soot to the point where it took time for people to recognize him.
I found myself thinking a lot about that example as we prepare for a Sunday at the Cathedral --Sept. 30 at 11 a.m. -- when we celebrate and pray for the United Nations. What was radiant upon Ambassador Stevens' death was that he had made the hopes of others his own as he tried to help them build a better country. That kind of global citizenship from an American public servant speaks volumes about who we truly are and what we want our role in the world to be.