Forty years ago this week, something happened that most of us call “Kent State.” I was 13 years old, and was taking an elective course in my junior high school about current events. We were required to watch the network news each evening. In class we read the newspaper, discussed what we’d seen and read, and wrote articles of our own.
It now seems as though I must have walked through those times as two people. One of me was having fun with friends, studying math and science, reading fiction, hiking and riding horses on the weekends. The other one was standing slack-jawed in front of the television as footage rolled by—of riots on college campuses, racial conflict and civil rights marches, nuclear proliferation, a war that was drafting young men I knew, and then Kent State, where the National Guard fired on unarmed protestors on May 4 of that year. Depending on who was talking about that event, it was sometimes viewed as either an abuse of governmental power, or a legitimate attempt to stop campus unrest.
The times were really something.
I know they helped to form me into the person I now am. At an age where I was just becoming aware of the larger world, that world seemed to be imploding. In all of the chaos, there also was, strangely, a sense of hope, and a lot of people in my generation grew up believing we could make a difference. We weren’t the ones who wrote the peace songs, but we sang them with heart, and we thought that peace was an idea that could someday prevail. At times, it did.
That all seems so long ago now. Some of those problems have faded, some situations have improved, things are certainly different. But new problems always seem to take the place of the old. And societal problems have been around since the beginning of history.
On Sunday I’ll be preaching from Revelation, about the city of God. The writer of that strange book looked around and saw a scary world—with an empire that stretched as far as its subjects could imagine, where people who didn’t bow down to the emperor could go to jail or worse, where Pax Romana (Roman Peace) was a misnomer for the fact that fighting back was futile.
Those days were really something.
And so this guy who was formed by his time wrote a series of extended metaphors about how someday there would be a city of true peace, where all the nations would come together by choice, not coercion. Someday there would be a place where even the sun doesn’t need to shine, because the light of God is everywhere and sufficient. He believed that someday things would be all right, even though that was hard to imagine at the time. A metaphor? Sure. Truth? Well, the readers of that letter believed their generation could make a difference. They drew strength from the idea that peace would someday prevail. And at times, it did.
This year on May 4 my granddaughter turned 13, the same age I was in 1970. I wonder how she sees the world, how she is being formed by the times. Every day, it seems, there is news of some terrorist attack or attempt either in the U.S. or abroad. People are arguing very publicly about their concept of what the role of government should be in our country. The problems we faced forty years ago have morphed into new ones. College campuses aren’t riot-prone, but sometimes bear witness to horrendous shootings.
These times are really something.
My granddaughter’s generation is bombarded with scary news, just like every generation before them. These young people are our churches’ confirmation classes, our schools’ students, our communities’ volunteers. They are not just the future; they are our present. So I wonder: in addition to the scary news, are we also giving them hope? Are we also telling them that peace is something to reach for? Are we helping them to believe that peace may someday prevail?
I hope so. Because the young people I know are full of promise and talent. They are leaders. They are fun and smart. If they have hope, they can help all of us find resolutions to the problems of today and tomorrow.
I want them to believe they can make a difference.
Because they are really something.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2010