I grew up in the volatile, exciting, and often strident 60s and 70s, finishing high school in the ‘spirit of ’76’ bicentennial year. During my formative years –
• John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated
• The culture of divorce and promiscuity took root and blossomed
• Watts burned and riots rocked Chicago during the Democratic National Convention
• America surrendered in war for the first time when it pulled out of Viet Nam – unless you count Korea, which was at best a stalemate
• Muslim terrorists killed Jewish athletes at the Olympics
• There was an energy crisis
• Commercial airlines and cruise ships were hi-jacked (and yes, my future wife was a ‘stewardess’ on that 1978 Delta flight that got redirected to Havana)
• The American auto industry lost its preeminent role
• A president was impeached and removed from office
• Disco conquered the airwaves – yikes
• The U.S. Olympic basketball team lost its first ever international game to the U.S.S.R. in a highly controversial ending
• Oh, and ‘we’ landed on the moon
Whatever you think of Jimmy Carter ‘the President,’ he made a number of profound statements that summed up where America was a month before the end of my teens years in a speech he gave on July 15, 1979.
The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.
The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our Nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else – public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We’ve always believed in something called progress. We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.
Ironically, Carter’s greatest failing may have been the palpable sense of pessimism – a near doom? – that pervaded his demeanor and words throughout his presidency. And in case you are wondering, yes, this was part of his famous “malaise” speech. How was I going to argue with that? I didn’t feel very confident about the future myself.
It was Ronald Reagan who seemed to understand Carter’s words better than Carter himself and brought a positive buoyancy to the American psyche over much of the next decade. Some say he was just in the right place at the right time and got lucky that the business cycle turned around but even his most ardent critics have to admit his sense of optimism may have helped change some things.
In a Tale of Two Cities (1859) Charles Dickens penned the immortal phrase: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness … Set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, he showed how the peasants were oppressed and brutalized by the aristocracy and how in turn they were indiscriminately brutalized by the revolutionaries. (Brazilian author, educator, and reformer Paulo Freire described the psychological movement from oppressed to oppressor in his landmark book Pedagogy of the Oppressed  that described freedom movements in South America.)
There is a lot of hand-wringing today. And for reason. There is a plethora of real and pervasive international, national, ethnic, economic, moral, social, personal, and spiritual problems. And yes, the American auto industry is reeling yet again.
Maybe it is the end of an era of prosperity and more importantly opportunity. But I suspect that the real reality is what Dickens described; we are living in the best of times and the worst of times. Even if consumer confidence was up and economic indicators were through the roof – the best of times for some – if there are oppressors and oppressed then it is still the worst of times … for somebody.
And yet a focus on such ‘realism’ simply doesn’t ignite passions and energize dreams. And what are dreams but what Carter called ‘confidence in the future’ … the belief – as unrealistic as it might seem – that my plans and actions can create a new reality. I can do something to build a better world.
Jesus said, ‘ the poor you will always have with you’ (Matthew 26:11) – very realistic – but men and women who have faith in Him have been at the forefront of compassionate ministry.
Even as companies fall there are people who still work to build new companies … and succeed.
Today is just like other days. The best of times. The worst of times. You may fall to one side of that equation personally. No matter. As a psychology professor said in a graduate class I took: I don’t care where you’ve been or even where you are … I want to know where you’re going!
So where are you going? What does the future look like to you?