Tuesday, February 11, 2014

50 Years Later, 50 Years Hence

The Rev. Canon Jan Cope
As I write this the day after another of the landmark 50th anniversary events, the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, I find myself reflecting on the poignancy of those mid-60’s years. Like most Baby Boomers, I well remember where I was when I heard that President Kennedy was shot. Even though I was only a child at the time, I remember the Beatlemania, President Kennedy’s assassination, President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” State of the Union address, and, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. While obviously troubled times, there were great leaders in our midst who committed their lives to making a difference. Fifty years later, what progress have we made as a nation?

Annie Lowrey wrote a thoughtful article in The New York Times titled, “50 Years Later, War on Poverty is a Mixed Bag.” She begins her article, “To many Americans, the war on poverty declared 50 years ago by President Lyndon B. Johnson has largely failed. The poverty rate has fallen only to 15 percent from 19 percent in two generations, and 46 million Americans live in households where the government considers their income scarcely adequate. But looked at a different way, the federal government has succeeded in preventing the poverty rate from climbing far higher. There is broad consensus that the social welfare programs created since the New Deal have hugely improved living conditions for low-income Americans.” While some conditions have improved, it is clear that the war on poverty has not been won. Many of today’s leaders, including President Obama, have called economic inequality the “defining challenge of our time.” As a Christian, I am reminded that the biblical imperative about caring for the poor and needy in our midst is clear. So how are we to respond?

I once heard a simple yet profound sermon that conveyed the basic message that we are called to do “the next right thing.” There is always an opportunity right in front of us that presents an occasion to do the next right thing. I believe part of the answer is to stay alert about what is right in front of us for us to do and to stay focused on addressing the defining challenge of our time. It is a collective calling to continue to wage war on poverty – even one person at a time.

Looking 50 years hence, what will we want people to observe about our leadership and our actions in 2014? What do we want our legacy to be? Will those living in 2064 look back and say, “Well done, good and faithful servants?”

The Rev. Canon Jan Cope is vicar of Washington National Cathedral. Find her on Facebook.