There is a trip we get to take twice in life. When we are growing to maturity we get to walk into the spot held by our elders. When we are the elders we get to walk off the stage of history, pushed, not always gently, by the generations behind us.
My generation is the meat of the sandwich, the cream center of the cookie. We are caught, not often comfortably, between two large demographic groups, one living longer than ever in recent recorded history and the other pushing outward technologically into a world where available information doubles every eighteen months.
You will now remind me every generation gets this experience; there are always those just ahead and those just behind. My contention is even more simplistic. There has never been a multitudinous population of seniors or a non- assimilated generation of youngers converging to catch a huge generation like the Boomers between their thoroughly dissimilar generational needs; not ever before in human history.
The ancient Aryans exposed their old to the elements or set wild dogs on them. The ancient Spartans dealt with their young so harshly they almost exterminated themselves. We do not adjust our population in this way.
So, our generation has a different list of "musts."
In the list of things we "must do," my generation "must come to a deeper understanding of the role forced on us by extreme social pressures." We will not "solve" many problems but we can serve as a bridge to the future, while we solace the passing generation just ahead of us.
When one first accomplishes something "big," the feeling of euphoria is spontaneous. You may not understand all the implications of the accomplishment but the tingly feeling is the highest high. There is the natural tendency to want to repeat the behaviors/actions that produce the high.
The ancients built their cities/temples/altars at places where they felt something divine/extraordinary/supernatural occurred. They set a precedent for all succeeding generations with altars at Dan and Beersheba, with temples in the high mountains and cities on the plain near the confluence of great waters.
When all the space got occupied, humans began to associate our highs not only with places but with events that were more portable. The event, labor rally, political convention, military action, civil demonstration "carried its own lights" from place to place. The "sacred site" gave way to the "sacred rite."
Why do Americans still have political conventions when primaries decide the nominees long before the convention convenes? No, not to set the platform. The candidate writes a platform book before he/she starts their run. Democrats run from the left and try to govern from the center. Republicans run from the right and try to govern from the center. Independents run futily and govern by protest.
We have political conventions for the sake of the media exposure (less and less each four years) and for the symbol. The last meaningful convention of either party in the USA was 1968 in Chicago and did not work out so well for anyone involved. Still, they linger on with all the old symbols, a symbol grown weary and ancient but still a "sacred rite."
My point is as simplistic and you anticipate it ahead of me. The longer we do something the more symbolic it becomes until the very act itself becomes merely symbolic for what once happened around these rites or at these sites.
More harshly put, when we continue to perform acts long after they have reached their apogee, the more we become a caricature of ourselves. The sentimental, historical attachment to the zenith of entitlement is our doom.
I sat with Charles Wade and our wives at a Billy Graham Mission in Dallas, Texas. The stadium was less than half filled but all the symbols were still there. The personalities, the singers, the choir and the counselors, along with the white shirted seat fillers, all were as I remembered from my last time at a Billy Graham Mission (nee-Crusade) in that same stadium thirty-five years ago. A gospel message was presented. It was a very pleasant evening, envoking the mass rallies of bygone days.
At the invitation time, the "movers" dutifully trudged forward, along with a handful of others. All the old forms were present. The portable "sacred rite" was repeated down to the last bit. I felt a massive wave of nostalgia sweep over me.
"What do you think?" Charles asked me.
"I don’t know," I answered. "I can’t think right now because of all the feelings."
Understand, for my generation, this was the sunnum bonum, the highest expression of evangelism, which was the most courageous expression of Christianity. An evangelist was the hardest preacher, the ultimate warrior for the faith.
We still love to see someone out there trying. The "old fashioned" tent revival, the "door to door" campaign, requires an old time sigh from us. We would still like to have a flannel board program but we live in a microsoft world. There is something in us that demands we just try to do harder what we always did with the expectation we will get the same results.
I would love for the mass American rally in the large cities to make a comeback along egalitarian lines. In fact, the mass rallies today are for sporting events, not labor, or politics and certainly not religion. The mass gatherings are in the mega-churches, with their stylized forms, aura of success and social networking around excellence.
Still, we cling to the old rites. They are sacred symbols, largely now without substance. We do them because they meant something once upon a time, not just because we have always done them.
When those of us on the outside of the religious political machinery ask for change (though our gifts are welcome inside) we are cautioned to wait, to be more patient, to risk the existence of our cooperative effort to the good works of some who have not always participated fully in its defense. This is the liberal gradualism of the center. History usually corrects itself over time and usually to the left, toward a more liberal/progressive/tolerant set of solutions. If we just hold some ground, emotional inertia will stop some of the slippage, until history can shake out along another battle line.
Some of us are arguing for a more liberal, progressive approach sooner. As the result of dynamic action, we believe, we can free the cooperative effort from stresses that threaten its very existence. Sadly, the left, unlike the liberal gradualism of the center, is often ham-handedly radical in its nihilism. That is, we are not set to preserve all things in place, not content to wait for the pendulum to swing in the direction of liberty, fraternity and equality. Yet, we may make enemies of friends as we fail to assuage the fears of the center.
When making an omelet, eggs are often broken.
On the right, fearful, reactionary forces seek a return to the glory days of yore. Those days were not so glorious for all and are not retrievable at any rate or for any price. The future of cooperative effort is forfeit if we retreat, almost certainly as lost if we try only to hold the line where we stand and, so, only salvageable with the destruction of certain old structures to make way for the new.
We have some time, or so it seems, but no one yet appears in the baptist laboratory to serve as our spiritual alchemist. We yet lug around a lot of lead to be made into gold.
Some Hope, Not Despair, For What Is Ahead, When Chapter Ten Resumes Tomorrow