This afternoon I watched part of 1968 with Tom Brokaw on the History Channel, and later found myself comparing that year when I was 7 and the current year in which my youngest daughter is now 7. Sometimes we look at the present and bemoan how horrible life has become, forgetting just what the past really looked like in comparison. 1968 was as pivotal year in terms of societal upheaval as any in the last 40 years. The entire culture was transforming, and it was doing so in the midst of intense anger, violence, and a seeming disregard for all of the moral restraints of the previous generation.
In 1968 I was living in California with my mother who was raising me as a single mom (She had moved there in the late 1940's.) Born out of wedlock my mother decided to raise me alone, and my father decided to bow out and let her do it. She never asked for child-support, and as far as I know, he never gave any. I met my father but once, and remember little to nothing of him. After I became a father myself it perplexed me even more why he chose to have no role in his son's life. Our life in LA did not seem to be significantly affected by the turmoil embroiling the rest of the country, although I remember my mother talking about the riots near where she worked. My mother was simply trying to raise her only son (and only child) in a modest apartment on a waitress' wages. Within the year we would move north to Oregon, following my uncle and his family to start over, where my mother would reach a breaking point psychologically, requiring us finally to sell almost everything and make our way to Wisconsin where she would begin a long period of healing. So in 1968 we were fast approaching our own crisis as a family that mirrored the instability the country itself was going through. I am not sure how faithful my mother was in the church at that point, but thoughts of God were not far away. When we finally moved to Oregon she would retake an adult instruction course in the Lutheran church when it was discovered that her records back in Wisconsin were inadequate.
Now fast-forward to 2008, 40 years later. My youngest daughter is also 7, but is one of three siblings, and has two parents now happily married for 20 years. She has some learning disabilities, but is developing well as a student in a Lutheran school, while she also takes dance lessons on the side. Compared to my childhood at this point hers is very stable. However, the two parent family without divorce in which she lives seems more unusual 40 years later than the born out of wedlock single parent family I knew then. Still, the country she was born into somehow survived the radical changes of the 1960's, although it too is suffering during a time of war (Vietnam then, Iraq today).
Comparing the two eras and childhoods I thought of the popular phrase, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Our childhoods are already very different, and yet the faith of my mother and the church she raised me in is now reflected here 20 years later in a home still filled with faith and church. In an era where family values were being abandoned wholesale and violence threatened to rip the country apart, a single mother living in a liberal state far from her roots held fast to her commitment to motherhood and threw her life into the future of her only son. Today those values live on in that son who finds that the greatest gift he has in life, save his Savior, is his beloved wife and three children. The world is still torn up in violence and war. Cohabitation more and more replaces marriage, and families are often defined by division and disruption more than devotion. Yet, by God's grace, the family nevertheless survives and thrives.
Life is cyclic. Although it changes and transforms old customs, it also repeats itself in many ways as well. The struggles of my mother raising her out of wedlock son in 1968 in California, is now widespread in the heartland center of the nation once known for its family stability and no-nonsense values. Yet being raised in this environment gave me a unique insight into what I would face as a minister years later. Instead of teaching me to rebel, it taught me to understand and care. It also taught me to value the one thing so seemingly tenacious in my past: family. Today, my mother is gone, as is my natural father (who died in 1976 I am told). My adopted father passed away as well, along with all my grandparents. The situation is the same on my wife's side. My children have very little extended family. Thus, they cherish what they have, as I learned to do so long ago living alone with my mother.
Looking back, however, I am filled with deep thankfulness. For one more thing is apparent to me now, a single thread stretching through all those years unbroken by the sin and evil that has always been so prevalent. That thread is God's enduring grace in Christ Jesus. Many were probably predicting the demise of the organized church back in 1968 as the Beetles embraced Hinduism and a whole generation became lost in a haze of psychedelic smoke. Yet today it's still here. And alas, the church I serve just celebrated its 120th anniversary. Out here in the changing rural landscape where churches fade and die daily with shifting demographics, we actually celebrated more baptisms than funerals in the last 8 years. Grace. God is never finished, and certainly never defeated, even by a world always trying to tear up the past and warp the future.
Well, that's enough rambling. Maybe its the fact that I'm approaching my 50's that I'm starting to reminisce so much....