Monday, August 11, 2008

Fortunate Son

I am sure that some of you 60's music buffs recognize the title of this posting as the title of a rocking Credence Clearwater Revival Tune that laments the societal perks often afforded those born into privileged situations. All too frequently, these privileges are not accompanied by an appropriate sense of responsibility. The Biblical expectation of such privilege is clear - "To whom much is given, much is required."

The Mayor of Detroit's seemingly never-ending spectacle of misbehavior bring the Biblical admonition and the convicting message of the Credence Song to mind in an especially relevant way. It is relevant for me, because I feel as if I and many of those with whom I was raised are fortunate sons as well. This recognition causes me not to spend so much time looking at the mayor, though his misdeeds and the city's resultant suffering merit the most intense scrutiny and whatever consequences, moral and legal, are applicable, but it rather causes me to reflect on how my generation and I have used our gifts. Furthermore, it causes me to ponder how our action or inaction affects those a wee bit younger, such as the Mayor and those quickly ascending the ranks of responsibility and leadership for the years ahead. I don not have the luxury to view the Mayor's issues in isolation as if they said nothing about me.

Like the Mayor, I am African American. Unlike the Mayor, I am not a native Detroiter. I was born during the dying days of the segregated south to a career Army Paratrooper father and a devoted educator mother. I was fortunate to have my mother's heavy duty personal investments of time and effort in my education process, teaching me to read and write well before my preschool age and exposing me to the foundational message of the Scriptures at a time when such teaching was beginning to be viewed as "unsophisticated" or "old-fashioned." I was an only child. This designation is usually seen as a license of sorts, giving the child in question unlimited freedom to be self-centered, spoiled, and oblivious to the needs of others. My parents would have none of that! Among the nuggets of wisdom my mother passed on, and she was a virtual reservoir of wisdom, was this little axiom that she repeated as a determined mantra and drilled into reality in my brain for life: "You may be the only child, but that doesn't doom you to be only a fool!" I won't go into detail regarding how my parents guided me away form folly, but I will sum it up by saying I didn't get everything I wanted and they often told me "No".

As Americans, we haven't been told "No" often enough. Our lives of luxury and convenience have increased our feelings of entitlement and privilege. Many of our failings as a society are the result selfish pleasure seeking in the face of urgent community responsibilities. We are too eager for the ease which our standard of living affords us and not eager enough to exemplify the work and ethics that made that standard available to us in the first place. Those of us who are leaders are especially culpable. We are often too absorbed with the perks of power rather than focused on the opportunities that positions of leadership afford. We are too eager to "make our mark" for our fame's sake, rather than making a difference with hard work and less credit. Detroit's current Mayor is merely a reflection of societal trends on the whole. Too many of us look forward to a perpetual party and an early retirement, while not enough of us are anxious for dedication to a meaningful cause and a lifetime of work on the behalf of something greater than ourselves even at the possible cost of personal obscurity. Great people and great societies can only be produced by people who are committed to lifting up others, even at the cost of their own enjoyment or opportunity for self-promotion. Martin Luther King's ascent to the pinnacle of the Civil Rights Movement would have never happened had it not been for the consortium of Elder Statesmen Pastors in his city who were not looking for a platform to lift themselves up to greatness, but who were selflessly committed to laying the foundation for a true transforming movement in the fog of anonymity.

The refrain of the Credence song mentioned at the onset has this refrain:
It ain't me,
it ain't me.
I ain't no senator's son.
It ain't me,
it ain't me.
I ain't no fortunate one.

I may not be a senator's son, but I am undeniably a fortunate one! No doubt more than a few of you have been fortunate too! The present mayoral crisis in Detroit and other signs of deficient leadership across the nation provide us with a crucial imperative for reflection and adjustment - in ourselves and in the ones to whom we will hand the batons of leadership. In Psalm 139, King David ends his beautiful tribute to God's Omniscience with a blistering critique of those who are hostile to the ways of God. Just as David reaches the apex of his observations, his focus takes a dramatic turn. He ends his thoughts with an humble appeal to the Lord to see if there are any defective ways in his own life! We would do well to emulate King David's self-inspection.

The warning bells are sounding even now as each new scandal is discovered. What do these sorry tales of failure in personal integrity and societal values say to us and the way you and I live our lives? If you are a favored and fortunate one, as I am, are you part of a possible solution or part of a growing problem that seems almost unsolvable? As the long departed writer John Donne's meditation demands, "Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee..." Let's hope our diversions, entertainment and misguided priorities aren't drowning out the sound. Until next time.


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