Monday, November 30, 2009
Queen Elizabeth addressed the Parliament in November 1992. It was the fortieth year of her reign; a time for Kingdom celebration. But in that formal room filled with specialists in the art of the stiff upper lip, she wearily announced to all that it had been indeed an annus horribilis. Hardly the stuff of rosy optimism or sunny royal cheer.
What prompted her rare attempt at self-disclosure? Well, there was the fire at Windsor; but mainly it was the children. Marital problems set the legendary British tabloid network ablaze with searing headlines and sordid photos.
Maybe she took her cue from the American President, normally self-possessed and sober. Six years earlier, July of 1979, Jimmy Carter addressed the nation in a televised address to let us all know we had an attitude problem. Apparently, all the bad news got to him.
“It is a crisis of confidence,” he declared.
The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.
As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.
The following year, Ronald Reagan denied him a second term.
In another month, we will close out the first decade of the new millennium. Good riddance, says TIME Magazine. Andy Serwer’s cover story calls it “The Decade from Hell.” Maybe those Y2K guys were right after all. The calamities catalogued in TIME’s piece just about measure up to their apocalyptic predictions. No, the computers worked all right, thanks to the upgrades most everyone had in place by December 31st. There was no immediate need for all that fresh water, non-perishable foodstuff and cash stashed in the safe. But the New Year, January 1, 2009, signaled an avalanche of disaster, all rehearsed in detail in the nation’s influential weekly.
It is distinctly un-American to dwell on the negative. Our capacity for denial matches only our resilience and aptitude for recovery. We prefer not to dwell on calamities past. We are the nation that escaped the injustice and tyrannies of Europe, crossed the great ocean and staked our claim in the New World. And we’ve been building a New World ever since.
That’s why Jimmy Carter got the boot. When the Monarch admitted defeat, we Americans privately cheered. But the Brits figured it was time for the Monarchy itself to be cut loose. Now TIME raises the banner of malaise, a decade horribilis.
It may well be that TIME itself believes the end is near. The print media is facing the real possibility of extinction.
While Serwer does a pretty good job of summing up the disasters – from market crash to market crash and everything in between – his attempt at a happy ending rings a little hollow. It is tired stuff like “the market always moves in cycles” and “government regulation is sure to move in with preventative measures” and “America is still the World Leader” and “the other nations still want to be like us.”
But think it over. I have been around long enough to remember a half dozen decades, and every one of them could have been summed up as the worst ever. Every one. Go back and count them. 1949. 1959. 1969. 1979. 1989. 1999. 2009.
Yes, we are all waking up to a brave new world. Perhaps like never before, we are all in a process of reinvention. We are adapting to new realities. We are learning new skills. We are thinking in new ways.
But certain realities remain; foundational things upon which we built a life. Like last Thursday, when we held hands around a table still bountiful and drew our collective attention toward the faithful God who sustained the generations on whose shoulders we stand; the God who sustains us still. We looked around the circle at the grandmas and grandpas and moms and dads and those giggly children. Enveloped by the aroma of turkey and dressing and hot gravy and spiced cider we smiled in the presence of goodness and beauty and wonder and then we bowed our heads.
We expressed our thanks.
For a few moments, we let go of the dangers and toils and snares, and we felt gratitude.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009