Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Greatest Generation and its legacy...

I am blessed to be the son of two wonderful and amazing people.  Both my parents were born prior to the Great Depression and their childhood was shaped by the devastation of that era.  They grew up with little (in comparison to me or to my children).  They worked from early youth with family chores and to make a buck here and there.  They endured adversity and want only to find the world at war in their young adulthood.  They and their families worked and served at home and abroad to secure victory against the Nazis.  Their married life was shaped by Korea and the Cold War.  My father started his own business and poured his heart and soul and countless hours of effort and energy to make a living and to make a life for his family.  My mother worked in the business and kept the house and served as primary parent on site.  In addition to all of this, both were extremely active in the community -- the Town Board, the volunteer Fire Department, the Women's Club, Scouts, etc...

Their legacy was one of sacrifice and service.  I will readily admit that I lived a rather privileged life.  We were neither wealthy nor people of leisure and yet my brother and I grew up in a safe, secure, loving, Christian home and, though we complained, we lacked for nothing.  Unlike some other parents of this Greatest Generation, they did one more thing.  They passed on their values.  We grew up with a sense of debt and duty.  We were consciously in debt to those who sacrifice had provided us so much and we were told in words and actions the value of remembering this debt.  We lived with a sense of duty.  Maybe it was growing up in the small town where everyone knew your business or the values of the Lutheran country parish in which I was taught the faith or my parents -- or a combination -- but we understood that with all we had been given came a serious sense of duty and obligation to preserve, protect, and pass on what our grandparents and parents had made possible.

I am not the product of "old Americans" but really rather recent immigrants -- most of them in this country only a few generations prior to my birth.  I do not know if this contributed to the way I was raised or the values I was taught.  My own perspective is too tied up in the things I knew and know about my family, church, and home town to be able to see this objectively.

Yet I am often thoroughly ashamed of the selfishness of the Baby Boom generation to which I belong.  Too many of us took what we had been given as birthright and not gift, we used it as license rather than responsible liberty.  We have magnified our faults in the way we raised our children -- teaching them to be even more self-absorbed than we were or are and forgetting to pass on to them the values of debt, duty, sacrifice, and service.  I am not talking about the school of hard knocks.  I am talking about the distinctly Christian values that accompany the privilege of freedom in Christ and how that liberty is lived out in daily life.

If I could fault my parents at all it is that they made my life too easy.  It was not until young adulthood that I fully understood what they had passed on to me in the way they lived and believed.  I was a Christian to be sure but the full impact of the faith they lived and still live was not fully apparent to me until I was married and on my own as a Pastor a couple of thousand miles away from the Nebraska heartland where I grew up.  The full measure of the debt I had to them and to those who came before me and the full acknowledgement of my duty as a Christian, husband, parent, and member of the community did not hit me until after I had left my family to begin my own.

Now this is not meant to be rant.  My purpose is not to trash those of my kid's generation or my own fellow boomers.  My point is this -- we pass on nothing of value to our children unless we pass on the values necessary for them to receive what they have been given.  Living in debt to others is a powerful motivator for community, neighborhood, citizenship, and church.  In fact, it is the primary guiding principle of stewardship.  What we have is not our own and we are not our own.  What we call our own is what God has given to us and we, too, have been bought with a price and our lives do not belong to us.  "He died for all that those who live should not live for themselves but for Him..." words that surrounded a crucifix on the back wall of my first parish - so that I could see them throughout the service and the people saw them as their final image upon leaving the nave.  That is what my parents taught me.

Duty is not imposed -- duty is acknowledged and accepted.  In the old words of the Book of Common Prayer the Eucharistic liturgy said "it is truly good, right and our bounded duty to give thanks..."  Duty is a good word and duty is what accompanies gift -- the gift of a life and home and family and the gift of God's life, the home within His love, and the family of His Church.  Duty is not something burdensome for its burden is our delight and its responsibility is our joy.  We need to teach a sense of duty lest the gift of God in Christ become common and ordinary.  Duty is acknowledged as when the Christian realizes that salvation is free to us but cost Jesus His life on the cross.  Duty is accepted as the responsibility to keep and pass on that which was given to you.

I have not given up on the future as some have.  For one, my congregation is a church home to many young men and women in the Army.  I have seen their sense of duty at work in the sacrifices they have born for our nation over the past nearly 20 years and I continue to be impressed by their dedication and their sense of duty.  I see the many medical professionals in my parish (most especially my wife) whose dedication and service is not due to the paycheck but to their sense of debt and duty lived out in service to the sick.  I am amazed at the number of teachers in my parish who work so hard every day not only to teach the various subjects but the love of learning and the values that give that education meaning and nobility.  I could go on and on.

I know that I have probably done too much to make my children's life even easier than was mine growing up.  I know that we have had more money and more leisure time to share and probably squander than I had as a child in my parent's home.  But I hope and pray that I have given them values to accompany the gifts, that they have grown up with the same sense of debt and duty that I learned from my parents.  I am proud of them and each of them have accomplishments and hearts that inspire and encourage me.  Time will tell how all of this bears fruit in the rest of their lives.  These things of which I speak are not instantaneous but grow in us over time and experience.  None of us are ever who we should be and none of us are without opportunity to become more than who we are now.

So you also, when you have done all that is required of you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”  Luke 17:10

Just a couple of random thoughts as we end one year and begin another...


Anonymous said...

"This Is Your Life" a popular TV
show in the 1950's was hosted by
Ralph Edwards. Reading this blog
made my eyes water and had to get
my hanky out.

Anonymous said...

Reading this, I got all verklempt.
So talk among yourselves. Discuss
the importance of the greatest
generation on Tom Brokaw's financial
bottom line from his book.