SUMMER IS A WONDERFUL time in the Green Hills of Missouri. There is so much activity. People visiting, the YMCA and City swimming pools are in full operation. We spend much of the time out-of-doors. The main celebration, of course, is the Fourth of July—Independence Day. Each time I sit and watch the fireworks displays (we all gather in the YMCA parking lot and see the city park personnel shoot off wonderful exploding stars and booming chrysanthemums) something about the flow of life comes to my mind. I remember holding my three-year old son, now an adult, as we watched fireworks over Coronado Harbor in California; I remember the excitement of our daughter when she would watch these brilliant flashes in summer skies in Alaska,New Mexico,Virginia, and Texas, all the places we lived as she grew up. Both daughter and son are adults now, and have their own memories and families to build.
Thinking about living in a free country as a citizen with rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and enjoying the benefits of liberty (liberty secured for us by the sacrifice of so many), I am drawn back into those memories, I reflect on all of this and what it means to me.
Sometimes, I believe, because of the stream of chaos that surrounds us, the changes that are overtaking our society surprise us. What we experience in this late date in the twentieth century, going into the twenty-first, is not what we expected when we were young.
I expected the same level of fervent effort I witnessed among citizens as I was growing up in World War II. It was a feverish time. Patriotism was everywhere. When photos of Franklin D.Roosevelt and General MacArthur flashed on the movie house screens during Saturday matinees, we cheered. I expected life to stay like that. If you are just coming into conscious awareness of your surroundings when all these things are happening, you believe that it has always been so. It had not, and before the glory days of the War Years, people struggled and clamored to survive. I did not know that. I believed everyone was poor, some had a little more than others did, but everyone lived in the same modest homes I lived in.
Nonetheless, we often yearn for the “Good Old Days;” a time, we believe, when things done right and done well actually existed. In our life as Christians, we often look back and yearn for a time when our churches were full, and “everybody” went to church. Churches today, just like the society in which we live, are in turmoil. While I cannot, I long to escape the existing turmoil in the church and in society. Nevertheless, to be a part of life and to have a vibrant life, escape is neither possible nor desirable.
I never fully understood my mother’s desire not to go back to the “Good Old Days.” She would say these days are the best of days for me.” Not having experienced the full burden of the depression, as a child, I could not understand what she meant. As I grew older, I came to grasp the significance of what she was saying. The truth of the matter was that her family was poor even without the depression. The dynamic changes came after World War II truly improved her life. She had no nostalgia for days gone by. She loved living in the present, because it was always getting better for her. Although poverty and struggle mostly defined my mother’s youth, she often told me that it seemed to her that the social structures were solid, and people knew how to behave. However, that did not seem to be a strong draw for her.The sedateness of the times of her youth held less promise for her than all the potential she was finding in the present. She could be an artist, she learned to drive, and she developed a sense of independence she had never had before World War II.
I think of her and our country as having similar backgrounds. We can think of America as a country with a wonderful past, one we can long to repeat. At closer inspection, however, chaos, war, racism, social strife and class distinctions characterized the past. The “good old days” were not so good. My mother was right.
I think about what we as a nation and people have come through in the past two-hundred-plus years. We were born out of violent revolution.The struggle to unite us as a nation was tumultuous for nearly a century. The nation grew; our American identity began to form. The basic issues of our life together as a people, however, remained unsettled.
The little church I served in the Green Hills of Missouri (I was their rector and pastor) called Grace Church is a good example of the mid-nineteenth century turmoil. The parish, formed two years before the beginning of the Civil War, had to suspend its ministry by 1861 because of the rancorous atmosphere in Missouri. In this event, we can see that the divisiveness of the war sentiments reached down to the basic levels of society.
After the war a clergyman, an Episcopal priest, came from a town about sixty miles east of the Green Hills, and the parish was reestablished. There is no written record of the emotions of the time, but there can be no doubt that people held on to bad feelings for a long time. They had much to overcome.
We as a people have been “becoming” for a long time. We have been becoming a nation, a free society, a united people. This American tradition, I believe, has grown out of the heritage of the reforming Christian movements that came with the first European settlers.
Christianity is a “becoming” faith. We do not even come close to the full potential and realization of the joy of faith by a single effort. Christianity has grown over centuries of good intentions, turbulent arguments, and even wars in the name of Jesus.
The faith continues and Christians are becoming the Body of Christ. We can see in both instances—becoming a people of a nation and becoming the Body of Christ—that the process of identifying our potentials and realizing them is the essence of what and who we are.
Process is a human experience. The way to maneuver that process successfully is to maintain always a clear vision of purpose. As in the United States, the purpose is to prove a free and open society to all citizens (free of tyranny) can work. On the other hand, the purpose of our lives is to stay focused on God and to live as followers of Jesus Christ.
It is all process. Nothing in life is settled. Thanks be to God.