Monday, November 3, 2008

nunc dimittis

“Now you can dismiss your servant in peace, . . . since my eyes have seen your salvation.”

-- Luke 2:29

I’m way too invested in this.

I am a boomer. One of the first boomers, the leading edge on whom our ills are blamed. When black people stood up for their rights and made people angry, we were blamed for it. When the country lost a war, stuck in the morass of two presidents’ cowardice, lifting its helicopters off Saigon roofs while enemies rode into the suburbs, we were blamed for it. When at Jackson State and Kent State Universities the nation killed its children and cheered, we were blamed for it. When under a conservative president the country turned away from ideals to the worship of mammon, we were blamed for it. I graduated from college in 1968, the year hope died – the year of war’s failure, assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy, police riot in Chicago and election of a paranoid president. Happy graduation: enjoy your adulthood.

Enough already. We weren’t in charge. Our parents were in charge. There wasn’t a boomer president until 1992.

A dirty word, “boomer.” Sounds like “bummer.” Give us our full title. We are the “Post-War Baby Boom.” No one remembers what that means. The PWBB began in 1946, when soldiers of Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” came home from the Good War and decided they’d had enough mayhem. Aided and abetted by a vast welfare plan, they got married, bought houses and produced children on a record-shattering scale.

It’s not our fault. We didn’t choose to be born all at the same time.

Politicians beg for our votes and diss us. They say we are a privileged special-interest group with disproportionate power. Our “privilege” amounts to this: that wherever we went, there wasn’t enough. There weren’t enough houses, there weren’t enough schools, there weren’t enough colleges and, when some of us sought academic careers, there weren’t enough careers. When we retire and die, there won’t be enough money to pay the promises made to us. We were born by decision of our parents, and we will live with those decisions until we die.

But when the Maker of All consults my generation’s account book, she will read there a shocking secret: there are credits lodged against the debits. When I was a child, a black child could be beaten, shot in the head and dumped in the river for whistling in the presence of a white woman, and white people would close ranks around the murderers; black people couldn’t vote. Tomorrow a man of African descent may be elected president. This is a Sign: and like all true signs, it does more than signify – it Is.

In my seminary I studied with a great black Liberation Theologian. Like Jeremiah Wright thundering to his congregation that America lives under the judgment of God and her chickens are coming home to roost, James Cone testifies to his classroom that the Enlightenment was a rationalization of white European power and Thomas Jefferson was a rapist. It’s painful for liberals to admit that enlightenment is no guarantee of virtue; and the sins of Jefferson, our second Unitarian president, hurt us personally.

The great liberationist says “Racism is alive and well” at my seminary; but he says this to a classroom featuring people of all colors, and he represents from his tenured chair a faculty diverse in nationality, gender and race. He invokes the memory of 1968, when America was going to hell and he was writing his first books. But his present audience and the present occasion of his speech were inconceivable in 1968. If racism is alive and well, then the words “alive” and “well” have changed their meaning – or perhaps the word “racism” has changed its meaning.

When I was a child, racism was the law and racists boasted of their racism. Now racism dares not look in the glass to see its face.

I’m way too invested in this, and it won’t be my personal achievement. But it could mean that my generation, our adulthood ruined before it began, can take pride in our lifetime. The demographer says that in twenty years or so I’ll be out of here. But like old Simeon, I’ve seen the promise in the flesh. Nunc dimittis tuum servum.

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