As the calendar settles over the 4th of July holiday, I am always drawn to thinking about the history of our country. Whether you are interested in history or not, it seems that every generation is called to participate in and shape the events which occur in the time in which they live. And the question we must ask ourselves is, “did we measure up to what we were called by history to achieve.” Did we move forward in human rights?
In the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, the little Hobbit Frodo is overwhelmed by the events that have removed him from his cozy little life in the shire of Hobbiton. Deep in the gloomy Mines of Moira, Frodo speaks to the wizard Gandalf, “I wish I had never been born into these times.” Gandalf responds that no one chooses the time into which they are born. “What is important is what you do with those times into which you are born.” A similar story comes from the ancient Old Testament, the story of Esther, Queen of Persia, called to save her people from destruction. The king and his court do not know the beautiful queen is a Jewess, but in the time of trouble, her cousin, Mordecai, comes to ask her to help save her people by intervening with the King. When she hesitates Mordecai tells her, “Who knows but what you have been called to the kingdom for a such a time as this.” She is called to a personal bravery which saves her people.
When Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings series he was writing out of his experiences in the trenches of World War I. Millions of young men died in the mud and the poisonous gasses and the horror and Tolkien felt compelled to write about war and its consequences and how each one of us participates in our own time and place.
Some introspection at this moment in time is justified. Each generation has had to deal with monumental moments. Hindsight tells us that sometimes that generation acted well, but not always.
The early 1900s was a time of industrial change. There was the rise of labor unions and the battle to help the working class to fairer wages and better working conditions. There was a huge influx of immigration and the west was opened to free land through the Homestead Act and the promotions of the railroads. World War I sent the best of that generation to France to fight and die and to support Europe against the Axis powers. The worst appeared in this country in anti-German mistrust and persecution. The twenties were an age of irresponsibility, of financial corruption and the rise of organized crime with prohibition. African Americans were killed without mercy and the Ku Klux Klan rose to new power. Economic depression, dust storms and drought in the 1930s called on a dogged stubbornness just to survive. When World War II came there was a real “can-do” attitude that was a call to arms and patriotism for men and women alike. The allies won because of the industrial power of the United States. The persecution of the Japanese Americans was one serious flaw in that shining moment. When the 1950s rolled around we had to deal with “Jim Crow” laws which for too long had kept African Americas from the equal rights that belonged to them. Nuclear war was a reality we lived with and the Cold War with Russia was never far away. Vietnam and Civil Rights and women’s rights came to the front in the 60s. The War on Poverty was a movement to right the economic wrongs of many decades and a new “green” revolution called us back to the Earth. In the years that followed we have continued the battle for peace in the world, fighting a new enemy in terrorism, watching the rich get richer at the cost of the middle class and seeing equal opportunity fade into the background. Medical costs have created a fearful gap for the poor and the increasing numbers of the jobless and homeless have been part of the cost of our new society. Climate change is creating a new world-wide rootlessness as supplies of food and water become precious commodities.
Now a new generation of Americans is having to face a future that is promising but also fraught with concern. Not only the issue of unchecked immigration, but also a widening gulf of mistrust and hatred are dividing the county as nothing since the Civil War. This divide has to be bridged.
The work to create a world in which we can all live together peacefully, where no one forces their own ideas on another is never completed. One generation flows into another and we are each called to step forward and take a stand on the issues of our own time and place.
The call of America is always the need to reclaim the freedoms given to us by natural right. We do not abridge or take away what was originally given. Our fore fathers and mothers created a new country and laid out a system of government that still works. They have our eternal gratitude. It is a great responsibility to be an American. “We do not choose the time into which we are born. What is important is what we do with the time we are given.”