Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beautify America!

Way back in my childhood, Lady Bird Johnson, who was then the First Lady, embarked on a campaign to "beautify America". I'm too young to remember exactly what this entailed or how well it worked. But, I do know one thing: Mrs. Johnson loved wildflowers and had a desire to see them protected and planted so that people could enjoy them.

I was reminded of that recently when my darling husband and I took a trip to Texas, the state where we lived when we were newlyweds. While visiting the lovely town of Fredricksburg, we were every near a state park that had been named in honor of Mrs. Johnson.

Today, I decided to find out more about Mrs. Johnson's beautification program. I found this quote from Mrs. Johnson: "Ugliness is so grim. A little beauty, something that is lovely, can help create harmony that will lessen tensions."

Of course, as we know, the time in which the Johnsons were in Washington was a time of great turmoil in the country and the tensions to which she referred did need soothing. Large segments of the population enjoyed some degree of propserity and peace, at least on the surface. However, that peace was often interrupted by demonstrations against an unpopular war, a burgeoning gap between how generations saw things, a disagreement between political parties over how to do things, a growing drug problem, greed and materialism, racial strife, poverty, inflation, and high rates of crime. President Johnson came to power after the shocking assassination of JFK, and, during his term, Martin Luther King was also assassinated. Apparently, Mrs Johnson believed that conservation and beautification could improve the mental health of the nation, as well as aid what she saw as her husband's efforts to fight crime, to fight poverty, and to otherwise improve the well-being of the country.

Mrs. Johnson started with an effort to clean up Washington, as she thought that our capital district could serve as an example to other cities in the nation. The Washington clean-up program was two-fold: 1) to beautify tourist areas and, thus, create a capital city that America could be proud of and 2) to provide inspiration for those citizens who lived in decaying, crime-ridden, racially tense neighborhoods by making their surroundings clean and attractive.

The First Lady did not confine her efforts to D.C. She also tackled projects to beautify the entire country, especially along the nation's Interstate Highways. It's largely due to her efforts that we have fewer billboards along our Interstates than we might have even today and that the medians are sewn with wildflowers. Apparently, as part of her efforts, she also inspired school children to scatter wildflower seeds, training them to prize nature's beauty, as well. In her later years, Lady Bird devoted herself to preserving Texas' trees and flowers.

Lady Bird Johnson seems to have garnered tons of support for her ideas, and, while he was alive, her husband backed her efforts, as well. Did some find her ideas to be impractical? Did they wonder how ridding the nation of billboards and roadside auto graveyards, while building new benches and planting flowers could heal a nation beset by such looming problems? I don't know. I did see the title of a speech from 1969 that said, "If you really want to beautify America, feed a child." I have no idea if the speech was making a pointed comment about the Beautify America campaign or simply drawing attention to impoverished school children in need of proper nutrition.

How much did Lady Bird Johnson's work impact our nation? Did her efforts to clean up neighborhoods and highways and to conserve our nation's flora effect lasting benefits? Did it really soothe tensions and heal great hurts in our society? I don't know enough about that to make an assessment, though I do enjoy all those wildflowers that are part of her legacy to the country.

Today, we have made great progress in overcoming racism. However, we are fighting another unpopular war -- albeit one that has more support than the Vietnam Conflict did in the Johnsons' Day. Plus, we still have poverty and crime, the rates of which go up and down over time, but never go completely away. We are still a populous divided over which political solutions we think will really fix our problems. We are experiencing the fallout from the sixties' in terms of a relaxed attitude towards abortion and morality and problems that have resulted therefrom.

While I am very happy to live in our country, with our system of democratic representative government, I don't look to any government program to eradicate all the ills of a fallen world. Though the Lord does determine the times and places for the temporary governments of this world, it will be His Kingdom that lasts forever. Any real victory over the pain that results from sin and death rests with Him and His reign.

Having said all that, I do think that somewhere in the legacy of Mrs. Johnson's Beautification program, there must be some inspiration for us today.

What if each one of us embarked on our own personal campaign to beautify America -- or, rather, to beautify our little corner of it. How about beautifying our homes? Our neighborhoods? And, while we're at it -- how about beautifying the blog-o-sphere? Is it just me, or does anyone else find the snarly comments, mean language, and rude assumptions that litter the information highway to be even uglier than physical trash on physical roadsides?

I'm not necessarily thinking just of planting flowers and eliminating physical eyesores, though I do believe that lovely surroundings can be inspiring. But, what about scattering everywhere seeds of faith, kindness, thoughtfulness, unselfishness, wholesome and healing words, and loving deeds?

Of course, for me, embarking on my own personal Beautification program starts with eradicating weeds and clearing out junk in my own heart, as well as sewing good and lovely thoughts into the soil of my inner being. From there, it involves dying to my natural selfishness and consciously reaching out to others, making the most of every opportunity.

Here's to beautifying our little corners of the country and the world!


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