Generations are often defined by tragedy and crisis. Cultural milestones are often measured by a traumatic event that is shared by a generation. Remember Pearl Harbor? Where were you when JFK was shot? Or when Dr. King was assassinated? Tragedies shape how a nation and society views itself. A previous generation's optimism was crushed by the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Despair replaced hope in the hearts and minds of many.
My generation has also been defined by tragedy: Where were you when the space shuttle Challenger blew up? Remember Columbine? Where were you on 9/11 when the twin towers fell down? When multiple tragedies define a generation, the despair we inherited from the previous generation becomes a deeply ingrained cynicism. There is no such thing as hope. There is no such thing as a better world. In the church, our eschatology looks toward a bleak reality before Jesus returns. Our ecclesiology reflects a church that moves through the despair and destruction of the world like Noah's Ark. Why bother working toward social justice when the world is destined for destruction anyway? Even our theology becomes doom and gloom rather than one of hope and promise.
I am a part of that cynical generation.
On January 20th, 2009, hope replaced cynicism. The defining moment of this generation will no longer be a tragic event. The defining moment of this generation is the inauguration of a multi-cultural president, whose people helped to build the buildings that govern us, not as co-laborers, but as slaves. The defining moment of this generation is the sea of 2 million plus Americans from all walks of life, from all races and all levels of poverty and wealth gathered to celebrate the best of what this nation could become. The defining moment of this generation is one of hope and not cynicism or despair.
Will this hope be fulfilled? I am praying that it will. But at minimum, I resolve to not slip into a deep cynicism again. It's something I owe to the next generation.
Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Assistant Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary and a member of the Sojourners board. He blogs at www.xanga.com/scrah.