There have been many times when I have gazed across the table at gray hair, at a face lined with care and years, and heard a variation of the following: “I pray for our country. I pray for our church. I can’t believe how things have changed, and can only hope that Jesus returns soon.” The recent history of our country is seen as a downward, slippery slope toward the abyss of hell.
I’ve been trying to remember the specifics that are given as evidence for this slide. There are some I agree with: the cheapening of the meaning of marriage; the reality that the average person sitting in a church today does not read her bible with the regularity of someone sitting in a church in the 1950’s; a culture of sensuality that mocks modesty and eschews any sense of boundary or discipline in its expression.
There are some I can’t claim as my own: the passionate pejoratives launched at piercings; the lack of perfunctory prayer in schools; the disdain launched at environmentalists, drums in worship, or at “soft” preachers who overemphasize the love of God.
Is my argument with the specifics, or is my argument with the assessment of the trajectory?
Tonight I listened to another graying man, his face lined with care and with years…almost 80 years, in fact. The surprise was hearing how he saw the world very differently. “This is the high point of my life. These are the best years of my life.”
And when you think of John Perkins’ life…son of a share cropper, denied rights and dignity as an African American growing up in Mississippi, older brother murdered by someone who was supposed to enforce the law, jailed for his protesting for civil rights…when you think of his life then, and his life now, there is no denying that as bad as the world is now, an African American is going to paint a different trajectory for our country. They may not like it now, but there is no nostalgia to turn back the hands of time.
I still haven’t answered for myself which trajectory I believe the world is on. But Dr. Perkins’ words tonight remind me that it’s a privilege to have lived a life that is able to complain about tattoos and music in church.
May we work for justice. May we join God’s work in the world. It may mean that today’s oppressed people, in the next generation, might have the freedom to complain about trivial things, too. But I’m willing to take that risk.