Monday, January 19, 2009

I'm Starting to Hate the Word "Historic"

I've noticed over the last several years at General Conference, that the word "historic" is bandied about in a way that has me saying, "I do not think it means what you think it means." 150 years since the Saints entered the valley--historic. Oh, we built a behemoth conference center--historic. Oh, conference coincided with Easter, again--historic. Oh, we are remodeling the tabernacle--historic. Oh, there is a new apostle--historic. Oh, we are back in the Tabernacle--historic. Oh, so-and-so is the oldest living apostle born in the 20th century who is a sixth generation member at a conference falling precisely two weeks after the autumn equinox--historic. After all, if we say that every conference is remarkable or extraordinary or special then maybe what we are really saying is that none of them are?

Just an opinion.

The political frenzy of the last two years did not plateau in November. A woman garnering more primary votes than any defeated candidate ever--historic. Oh, and a woman from ALASKA on the ballot--historic. Oh, there is a white male on the ballot, wait, not historic; what was that? you said that he's the oldest man EVER to get on the ballot?--historic! Oh, and man from Hawaii on the. . . .wait, he's also Black! And biracial! And his middle name is Hussein--historic!

Every story in the first three pages of my newspaper this morning was about Obama. The pundits and reporters and bloggers and everybody who thinks their opinion is worth two shakes has foamed at the mouth in recent days about the import of what will happen tomorrow.

As fantastic as tomorrow will be, and indeed a day (or at least a very narrow window of time) that historians will point to the great change that took place in our country (historic!), I would argue that the real change, the truly remarkable thing, is not a single event or election or even a man.

Forty-six and a half years ago, a young Black preacher stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and called America to task for its failed promise, particularly to people of Color, but also to women and the poor. He told of his dream that his children would one day be judged for the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Barack Obama was two years old when this speech was given. I wonder what his mother and grandparents thought?

No doubt, the election was historic. Our economic times are historic. The war situation is historic. The inaugural speech will be historic. The money spent on the parties tomorrow will be historic.

But greater than history is the miracle that took place in the minds and the hearts of the people from 1963 to 2008. It took 45 years, but maybe, just maybe we have come to a place where we look a little bit more carefully on a man's heart because we have taken the time to try to listen and understand. It is no doubt that our modern world is an era of great wickedness, but it is also a time of great goodness. Remember when the Berlin Wall fell? It seemed to have happened all at once, almost overnight, but the reality is that the hearts and minds of the people had been building to the event for years. The same thing has happened in America. But the lesson of Eastern Europe is a powerful reminder for us as well: the work of bridging the divide between peoples of all colors and creeds is not at an end. Like the tearing down of that wall, this "historic" election is just a symbol of all that we've accomplished, and all that must still be done.

In the book of Exodus, we read of Moses' great leadership and journey. But the Israelites wandered a long time before entering the Promised Land. The Lord waited, at least in part, for many in the old generation--the generation who had known nothing but Egypt--to die. It was the younger generation who received the miracle.

It is hard for me to read MLK's writings and not believe that he was a prophet of sorts: no blasphemy meant here, of course, but when you listen to the last, spontaneous, minutes of his "I Have a Dream" speech you know that he was given the words to say by a higher power. And, he, with his great faith, would likely be the first to agree. He led America to the edge of the promised land and showed them what might be theirs. Forty-five years have passed. Maybe it will be up to our generation to enter this sacred place.

17 comments:

Janssen said...

What a marvelous post (when I say marvelous I think of my grandfather and President Hinckley - I guess it isn't a word used in my everyday conversations). Anyway, thanks for sharing those thoughts.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I think Obama would agree with you that great change takes time. He spent his campaign inviting us to envision a better nation, but since the election he's been working just as hard to remind us that things won't be fixed or improved overnight. I'm hopeful that his leadership will move us in the right direction, though.

Suburban Hippie said...

It's hard to say what's historic until it's history.... of at least a few years.

Melanie said...

Wonderful perspective and well written!

PS: I can't remember exactly how I found your blog. I've noticed that you comment on Micah's blog--we were friends and neighbors when I lived in DC. It might have been through Janssen--we were in the same ward one summer at BYU. Or maybe it was a link from Nemesis' blog--don't know her, but love reading her blog. Even in the blogosphere the LDS world is a small one!

Slyck and Slim said...

Ok, but back to reality. The fact that Obama is now the president does not suddenly and miraculously mean that "my son can now be anything he wants to be" as one african american woman stated at the event today. Yesterday, her son could have been anything he wanted to be with hard work and a good education just like the rest of us. Ok, so Obama gives people hope...but I hope people aren't naive enough to think that he can make all of their problems go away like they have arrived at the Promised Land. Unless you are opting for communism (i.e. share the wealth) you understand that democracy is based on honest HARD WORK. I just pray, and I do pray for my President, that he finds a way to motivate people to help themselves because handouts don't help. Giving people a hand up does (giving opportunity but requiring effort/work in return), and a dole does little more than continue and worsen the cycle. And by the way, Obama was probably still living in Kenya,the place of his birth, when MLK made that speech. http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=81964
Why aren't we as an American people demanding proof of his birthplace, which he refuses to give. I think it's because we want to believe. We are willing to look away and let nit-picky details be swept under the rug. I pray that our ignorance does not prove to be harmful to our freedoms. Only time will tell. I'm a little sick of hearing all this talk about historic myself. History has yet to write itself.

Scully said...

Actually, President Obama was born in Hawaii. His father was an exchange student from Kenya at the University of Hawaii when he married Obama's mother (who was an American citizen). And I believe President Obama was 2 when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech. And not to be argumentative, but it is a lot easier to believe that you can become anything you want to be when someone like you has achieved it. I have seen the way minority students (not necessarily African American) at the school I volunteer at have held themselves since the election. It makes a difference.

s said...

The nation has become a little more perfected today. That is not only historic, it is glorious.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

The school I taught at in Houston (between 2000 and 2003) was 85% African American. Those kids spoke with irrational fear about the election of George Bush, clearly not understanding our system of checks and balances or shared power. But the more time I spent with them, and took a look at the impoverished community most of those particular kids were raised in, I realized a thing that took me far too long to realize: most people will do EXACTLY as they have been taught to do.

I was raised to work hard, take care of myself and not expect a hand out. I think that half that teaching came from the Church, but the other half (perhaps more importantly) came from my parents. For all I've seen as a teacher, I can honestly say, that the biggest difference between kids who make it and kids who don't is parenting. When you have entire communities of people not parenting (more to do with poverty and ignorance than race, although they are unfortunately often tied together), then the kids have nobody to look up to. There is nobody to show them a way up and out of generations of terrible choices. It is NOT easy to just look around and see a better way and even harder to act in accordance with laws you have never been taught.

I've believed for a long time that inner cities could be turned around if the schools were staffed (almost wholly) by dynamic, energetic, intelligent minority men. Teachers cannot ever replace parents, but it would be a start. To me, one of the most powerful things in this election is that lost young men (from any background) will have a very public positive role model.

And such influence cannot be overlooked. It is touching to hear Oprah Winfrey (and yes, she has many faults, but she has also done much good) tell about seeing Sidney Portier at the academy awards as a young woman and being astounded that a Black man could hold himself with such grace, dignity and eloquence. She told herself then and there that she could be more. Sometimes people just need something bigger than themselves to believe in.

I'm sorry, Slim, if my praise in this post seemed a little heavy-handed with the religous imagery. Obviously, and ideally that something bigger to believe in would be God, but our world is not ideal. I can't help but think that in the mean time God inspires good men and women to act. While the Savior is our perfect, supernal example, it is not unreasonable to search for the best qualities in others to emulate either.

Slyck and Slim said...

I agree with you on many points, but it seems that no one is acknowledging the faults of Obama. All we hear is glossified praise, and we blatantly ignore red flags. So my question is this: what if the role model is not following the rules? It makes it a bit harder to teach our children to be honest when the President of the United States is not. And for clarification, Obama's own family has made statements to the fact that he was born at Coast Provincial Hospital in Mombasa, Kenya, where his African relatives claim to have been present when he arrived. He is only REGISTERED in Hawaii. In Hawaii circa 1961, it was possible – even routine – to register foreign births. Under the Constitution's clear standards for eligibility for the Presidential office, it states that he must be a "natural born" American or that both parents must be American citizens -- though Obama's minor mother was, his father was a native Kenyan. (As stated in his autobiography "Dreams of My Father.") So are we just saying here that if you can be eloquent and polished that you can persuade millions of people to look the other way as you dishonestly take office, just to give others hope? As incredulous as it sounds, that is what has happened. I guess I am just too much of a cynic to be persuaded by frenzy, hype and emotion. I think there are only a handful of politicians that operate with integrity, and not many in history that I would name "role models." I just can't jump on the Obama bandwagon when he exhibits such blatant dishonesty and schmoozing finesse, if I can be so blunt. But that's what I love about this country -- freedom to express our opinions. I just couldn't sit back without expressing the "other" opinion here.

chris woodbury said...

Thanks for having a place where actual civil (as in not calling each other idiots over a difference of opinion) dialogue is happening. I have enjoyed reading this post as well as the comments/discussion it inspired. Love you.

Suburban Hippie said...

We ignored all kinds of stuff when Bush was in office (and how he got there) but he was Republican and talked to God so it was ok.

chris woodbury said...

Except for all those people whose sole purpose was to criticize/question/harrass/make fun of/scream about EVERY move Pres. Bush made or word that came out of his mouth.
I'm not arguing whether his actions should have been questioned. I simply disagree whether ANYTHING he did from day one was ever ignored.

CaLM RAPIDS said...

Very historic posting here. Reminds me of the over-use of the word "special" in church. Special musical number, special dinner,special lady, special friend, special fireside, etc. The english language has a bigger vocabulary than any other language. You think we could at least think of some other way to say it. Time to pull out that thesaurus.

CaLM RAPIDS said...

Just read all of the comments thus far. I honestly was waiting for Chief Justice Roberts to say, "I'm sorry but you are not Constitutionally qualified to take office." If our Chief Justice does not uphold the Constitution, then who will?

Suburban Hippie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
emandtrev said...

We need to talk sometime about where we both lived and worked in Houston. Thanks for the post. It gave me good things to think about, as always.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

If there was a legitimate case for Obama being foreign-born, I have to believe the Republican Party would have been all over that. Why waste so much time, energy, and money trying (and failing) to discredit his character if they could have utterly disqualified him by checking a few old records?

As for Bush, CW and SH both make valid points: some people overlooked everything he did wrong, while others overlooked everything he did right.