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.