I remember 1967. I was in seventh grade at San Jacinto Junior High School. Phones were still attached to the wall and only answered by people who were home when they rang. Computers were huge and owned by big businesses. Schools were segregated. Protests felt like things that happened worlds away or on TV.
While I was captivated by the task of putting together a chicken skeleton for my biology experiment, Dr. Martin Luther King preached at Riverside Church, saying,
“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin … the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
These words are particularly chilling to me. If King thought we were a “thing-oriented society” in 1967, what would he think today? The enormity of the task of undergoing a “radical revolution of values” seems hopeless.
I carried my heavy heart into church last Sunday where I was reminded that Lent starts this week, beginning with Ash Wednesday. Since my first trip to Haiti in 1996, the Ash Wednesday liturgy has had a special place in my heart. It is the only time when the Episcopal community asks for forgiveness of our cultural sins—sins such as values honoring “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights” more than people.
“We confess to you, Lord …our self-indulgent appetites and ways … our exploitation of other people … [and] our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts. …
Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty … prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, for our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us. …”2
Breaking the silence about the ashes of our failures as a society, gives me the first stirring of hope that something new is possible. Even now.
1. Fourth in a series honoring *Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Beyond Vietnam–A Time to Break Silence, HYPERLINK Delivered April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York City. Next in the series is titled, “The Clarion Call.”
2. “Ash Wednesday liturgy, in The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Seabury Press), 267-268