Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Twentieth Century Limited

We are citizens of the 20th Century. So were our parents, and our grandparents. Everyone we ever knew, save for the very old, were products of that time. I met a man once who claimed to have fought in the Civil War. He was very old and I was very young. He was probably too young by fifteen years, but it puts a strange perspective on things. When I was a child, there were parades of WW I veterans. As of today, there are three who survive. Now it is the WW II vets who are the old, old men. We mark the changing of the generations by the wars in which they fought.

We have passed through a vast era, that moved from steam engines to atomic energy in the first half of the century, and from television to the pc revolution in the second half. It was the pivot of history, more important than any set of ten decades since the formation of the Roman Empire, and perhaps more important than that. My grandparents came of age before there was radio. My grandfather was a farmer, who learned his vocation with horses as the primary source of power. My other grandfather was a railroad man -- in his small way he helped run the largest and most efficient, the most revolutionary system of transportation the world had ever seen. To cross a continent in three days. You have no idea. It was teleportation.

It wasn't only technology that changed. From a culture that thought Prohibition would be a wise thing, we come to a time when euthanasia is legal. Within living memory, we've moved from women having no federal vote, to abortion on demand. Well. Make your own list.

What is it in an era that shapes us? For I am, most certainly, a Twentieth Century man. Even the self-indulgent baby boomers with their adolescent tantrummings are an entirely predictable current within the tide. What then? Nationalism and ideological wars? What wars aren't national and ideological? Other centuries have been just as violent and uncertain -- more so ... just not as efficient in their violence. The great theme of the last century was change.

If this is the case, then what of our children? I started writing this with the supposition that I'd be saying my son was a man of the next century. Technically this would be true. But if we look for truths other than the merely calendrical, the answer isn't cut and dried. We don't know if the trend for revolutionary change will continue. We don't know what such change would bring. We don't know what forces, catastrophic or benign, will come into play. We are shaped by our world, and the future is uncertain even in sedentary times.

Then again, change is not some mysterious fate that befalls us unawares. Change occurs because people change things. Technology and politics, wars and philosophies -- these are the product of human endeavor, and while both the causes and the effects are cumulative and agglutinative, they are not droughts and asteroid strikes. The debate as to the inevitability of something is sophomoric, however pleasing to our ingenuity. The lessons of the past are cautionary, not predictive. What has happened already is unalterable. What will happen depends on what people do, or on how they react to what God does, or allows.

I have been unimportant. I have touched only a few lives, and while I believe the overall effect has been positive, it has been minor, in the great scheme of things. That's how most people would see their lives. We are caught up in the currents of the world and swept along to we know not where. Even if we think ourselves aloof from the torrents, the minor eddies in which we find comfort are no less subject to flash flooding and we are no more safe than those in the fast deep waters. Both greatness and peace, it seems, are artifacts of will and perception.

If this newer century is to be distinguishable from the last, it must be because of a change not in technology, but in wisdom. That's as much as to say nothing, though. We should be better. Um, yeah. How? Well, there is only one Messiah, but there have been any number of great men. Whether it is circumstances, or will, that brings it about, the fact is that great men make a difference. They lead -- even if only because the time is right for them to lead. If there is any controllable variable, it is not in the chaotic roiling of great social movements, but rather in the personality and skills of individuals. That's not much of an answer, though. Physician, heal thyself.

I would want my son to be great. I want him to have peace. But most, I want him to touch many lives, and leave them better than when he found them. I want this also for myself. But I am too much a man of the Twentieth Century, I fear. Circumstances overwhelm such men, and they are confused by change, or made blind by it. How are we to escape the catastrophe? What high ground can we find? What rock?

Somehow, from somewhere, we might find the strength to be kind to everyone we meet. We might bring light and grace. We might bring warmth and comfort. Somehow, we might be saints. That's all the salvation there is, for most of the world. But I'm not really talking, then, about a new century. I'm talking about a millennium -- and not the calendrical kind.



brent said...

"For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." Colossians 1:13

"You have made them to be kings and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." Revelation 5:10

I know our escatology is different, however, I believe this is for us today. It is by the Holy Spirit who is with us and in us to teach all things. He is our wisdom. And we can reign over our circumstances today. I think you know me well enough to know that reigning does not mean in ease and comfort but we are overcomers in this life.



Jack H said...

Yes, we had that discussion. If this is God's kingdom, then Satan is God. If the world lay in the lap of the evil one in Paul's day, I don't see what's changed. The only way this world has any business ending, is through fire. But we've had that discussion. As for circumstances, you are entirely correct. Provided that we exclude the circumstance of living in these bodies of death. Somewhere along the chain we have to take hold and pull. Maybe we're dragged down. Maybe we prevail. But even in falling we might do some good. We'll count it as self-sacrifice.