Shortly after Joan and I began dating, some 36 years ago, a child was born down the road from her family’s farm. The baby, a little boy, was born deaf, so just as soon as he grew old enough to play outside, the county installed a road sign of a little boy wearing knickerbockers and running. I don’t know why the county thought boys in the 1980’s still wore knickerbockers, but there you go. The sign read, Slow. Deaf Child. I thought that was a nice thing for the county to do. If I had a deaf child, I would certainly want the people driving past my home to be especially cautious. But, as all things do, the sign eventually wore out, so last month the county replaced it with a new Slow. Deaf Child sign, even though the child is now 36 years and hasn’t lived on Unionville Road since his family moved away when he was 10 years-old.
We’ve been reflecting on the qualities of healthy nations. Let’s review where we’ve been: In healthy nations, those who can help those can’t, while holding accountable those who won’t. Healthy nations give careful thought to their alliances, to their commitments, to their promises, and once made, honor them. They give their word, then keep their word. Healthy nations are not defined by their borders, but by their character. In our last time together we said healthy nations, like healthy people, devote their energy to uniting people around noble ideals
When I noticed the new Slow. Deaf Child sign warning drivers of a situation that no longer existed, it occurred to me that healthy nations don’t dwell in the past. They don’t devote their energies sustaining things which are no longer true. They live fully in the present and prepare wisely for the future. I was trying out this theory out on an unsuspecting man at the Dairy Queen this week, and he said, “Just remember, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” The philosopher George Santayana said that, as has everyone who has never wanted anything to change.
Of course, we should learn from the past, but that doesn’t mean we should be shackled to it. Healthy nations realize the inevitably of change. They realize when time and progress have made the garment of community threadbare, so create new ways of living together that better fit their changed reality. They live fully in the present and prepare wisely for the future.
Today, many people in our nation are held fast in the grip of nostalgia. Longing for an idealized past, they, like the Hebrews of old, prefer the chains of the familiar past, than the milk and honey of a promised land. Some of these modern-day lovers of Egypt hold vast power, and hold vast power for the express purpose of keeping our nation mired in a past that worked well for them but was terrible and tragic for others. This wistfulness for the past, this disease of nostalgia, is especially prevalent in times of great social change.
We know this is true, don’t we? We know people grow especially anxious and even angry amidst profound societal change. These social changes are fueled by a variety of things. Inventions and technology inspire social change. Think industrial revolution and the invention of the computer. Social movements inspire social change. Think of the rise of democracy, the abolition of slavery, the feminist movement, the Civil Rights Act, the Me Too revelations, and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.
When healthy nations, and this is my point, when healthy nations experience social change, they do not pretend nothing has changed. Instead, they find ways to weave new insights into their national tapestry, using these movements and developments to better their community and country. They use the power and energy inherent in social change to spark forward movement. As Christians we know this, because we know Jesus began a movement of justice and compassion that inspired incredible social change. Our Christian faith has its roots in a profound social shift that is still alive, still unfolding, still having a profound effect on the world. As Quakers we know the potential of social movements, because we remember a man named George Fox and a woman named Margaret Fell, who “minded the Light,” and urged others to do the same, confident it would banish all evil and injustice. So we are well-acquainted, are we not, with that Power that looks forward and not back.
Healthy nations live fully in the present and prepare wisely for their future.
Here’s what that might look like. I met with our financial advisor this past week. Let me tell you, never has so much been thought been devoted to so few resources, but there you have it. So our financial advisor is planning for me to reach the age of 100, an expectation I do not share. I’m 57 years-old, so will go on the government’s medical dole in 8 years, which means every dollar spent on me will be one less dollar spent on children, who do not have a lobbyist. I cannot abide this misguided allocation of precious resources. So if, in my golden years, I suffer a massive heart attack or stroke, leave me be. Tell the government to devote our resources to the future–send a teenager to college, feed a child, house a family, welcome a new family to America. Invest in the future, not in the past.
This is a spiritual imperative, that the people of God move always toward a promised land. A promised land not just for ourselves, but for all.