The other week, I found myself having repeated versions of the same conversation with various friends, family members, and myself.
A few examples:
My husband, who is reading the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a research project, shared some of Dr. King’s thoughts on race, nonviolence, and forgiveness. Preached in the 1950s and 60s, his sermons are prophetic and his words are just as true and necessary today. “Was anybody listening?” I wondered.
We had friends over for dinner the other night and began discussing literature. My friend Jane mentioned reading James Baldwin and thinking, “He wrote all this back then?! Wasn’t anybody listening?”
I pulled out a book for summer reading that’s been sitting on my shelf for some time: Resident Aliens: A provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know that something is wrong, by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. Then I noticed that my copy – which was published in 2014 – is the “Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition.” Which means that for at least the past 33 years some people have been saying that things are wrong both inside and outside the Christian church. Was anybody listening?
My father, who is reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson, shared this quote from a letter Jefferson wrote to John Holmes in 1820: “I regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776…is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons [.]”
Did you catch that?!? Just 44 years after the Declaration of Independence, one of our founding fathers died believing that America had failed.
Life is usually so busy and loud that it takes a lot for me to have an epiphany. But these events, within the span of a single week, seemed to be circling around a single concept. Was it that humans have terrible hearing? That we do hear, but are too distracted or selfish to act? Or perhaps that humans, regardless of our hearing, have terrible memories: We cycle through the same problems, and what seem like new problems today have actually been problems for generations?