September 1950: Time: two o’ clock in the morning. Place: a railroad station, in San Antonio, Texas. Situation uncertain. Moments before, the grinding of steel against steel signaled my arrival in this never-before-experienced-land where an unknown future opened before me. Reaching up, I along with fellow inductees grab a suitcase from a spot above my head and move toward the exit. Stepping onto the platform, two khaki-clad airmen herd our band of manhood a few feet away from the train. There we are sternly advised to stand in two lines of our own making. We are hardly in place when …

Confronting us is a precisely dressed sergeant with a “stand-no-nonsense” look in his eye. The set of his jaw makes me wish I had not burnt all my bridges behind me. Almost immediately he clamps down on us with words that were all “forward” with no “back-up.” Whatever purpose our lives would now obtain would be prescribed by the United States Air Force. We were no longer our own. We were admonished to forget our mothers, that he would be mom, but cut of different cloth. And so I found myself caught up in events over which I was to have little control for the next four years. All second thoughts dissolved in a somber acceptance of what was.

My point is this: Uncertainty of what lay ahead, then, now shape these musings. But are not all our days characterized by uncertainty? Worldwide societies free and unfree are inextricably bound to one another. The global world has never seemed so small. Around the planet are the untethered flotsams of peoples displaced and distressed by obstinate wars. Nations and rulers have barricaded themselves behind dubious words and ideologies intended to justify their ways before the world. At the same time, the planet suffers and groans under the impact of swelling populations and the indeterminate consequences of our scientific and technological doings. More often than not, we find nation and societies caught up in events over which they appear to have little control. Human progress — if we can call it that — seems to have taken on a diabolical character of its own. Whether humanity has the will and wit to apply such remedies our times call for remains unknown. Meanwhile, even as I write this, our own cultural setting is engaging in a political “re-write” such as might not have entered the national mind a few months back.

Perhaps every generation perceives itself as living in a serious time. Still, I think one could make a case that this generation must quickly re-discover a reverence for all life, and take a fresh hold of those treasured principles and values that belong to a democratic society, lest we create the kind of place where all dreams fail. It is in this kind of world that God has called us to live out such purposes as God through the ancient prophet prescribed: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We may not always agree as a people of varying faiths how we are to work the values and teachings of both faith and democratic heritage into our daily experience; nevertheless, a somber time does require that we make an earnest attempt to bring high conscience to bear upon our common life.

A serious time is not, writes Carol Bly in her book, Letters from the Country, a time “to bottle up social indignation, psychological curiosity, and intellectual doubt.” We are not to be spectators but to enter into the fray as people of keen mind and reverent spirit. As individuals we may not have at the ready solutions for the critical problems of our time; however, we do know enough of God’s will for our lives “to go ahead with.” We may even have some worthy ideas of our own to try within those circles wherein we move. And we can give ourselves to countless acts of worship for the wonder and mystery of our lives. In doing these things we become part of the solution and hopefully contribute nothing to the problems exacerbating our nation. With such thoughts we might make our way toward a different tomorrow.

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Church, Saco, Maine. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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