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If I wasn’t right when I first made the point in this column more than 25 years ago, I probably should be super careful with such a warning now.
Here’s what I said in our issue from Jan. 25, 1992:
“There are three things we who are American adults in the 1990s will teach our children, if we want to be faithful to them.
“First, we will teach them that they are not likely to live such financially prosperous lives as we have been blessed to live.
“Second, we will teach them that they are not likely to have the same kinds of social stability—or even freedoms—we have enjoyed throughout our lives. They may not even see the United States endure beyond another generation.
“Third, we will teach them that neither of those things ultimately matters. What matters is that they learn to live faithfully with God, their creator and friend.”
The next generation doesn’t seem nearly as fearful as we used to be about the vulnerability of our political structure and its attendant freedoms.
I did protect myself, as you will note, with that third point. And it still holds. But I am a bit concerned that my children might conclude that if I was wrong on the first two assertions I made that are so measurable, maybe I shouldn’t be trusted on the third claim.
I argued back then that the cycle that had made us so relatively rich simply could not be sustained. “Most of us, for better or for worse, have lived better than our parents did. We’ve had more appliances in our homes earlier. We’ve eaten out more. We’ve traveled more. We’ve come to expect that’s the way things are—and we’ve intuitively supposed it would be that way for our children.” I stressed that we’d built that lifestyle on way too much credit, and that such an empire was bound to collapse—and that the collapse was likely to come sooner rather than later.
With each passing year, though, such warnings have sounded more and more suspect. “Sure,” a 35-ish father told me a few weeks ago, “I’ve been hearing those cautions all my life. First thing you know, I’ll be an old man—and I will have denied myself and my family all the good things your generation has enjoyed.”
For this young father, the wolf-at-the-door warning about the economy had lost much of its credibility.
Similarly, the next generation doesn’t seem nearly as fearful as we used to be about the vulnerability of our political structure and its attendant freedoms. Many seem open to tinkering with socialism. I’m not sure they’ve ever thought about the way a collapsed economy leads to civil unrest and in-the-streets violence across a nation.
But it’s not just a wobbly economy that threatens to undo us, I warned “back then.” We are by no means the unified culture that once was able to counteract our weaknesses more or less as “one nation.” No more. Our racial divisions taunt us with every evening’s newscast. We may be more divided economically, theologically, linguistically, sexually, culturally, and every other way than at any time in our history. Some of that division has been on purpose—raising the question as to whether we can endure as a society while at the very same time promoting diversity.
But we’re still here! I raised these concerns in this column 25 years ago, and my tone suggested I thought the dangers were imminent. But I was wrong in my timing. Should I now no longer use these arguments with the next generation?
No matter. We still ought calmly to teach our children that however much we’d like them to enjoy God’s economic largesse and social tranquility, much worse things could happen to them than to be deprived of those blessings. Most of the memorable stories of people walking closely with the Lord their God come from times and cultures that were economically deprived and socially unstable.
Of course, God could choose otherwise. He could flood our families with all kinds of riches and stability and other good things. If He does, those who have been expecting and preparing for something much more difficult won’t find it hard to adjust. But if they think such things are owed them, their lives could be very hard indeed.