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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Psalm 25:7
Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.

In the fall of 1967 I enrolled at Valparaiso University. I spent several weekends during the spring of 1968 campaigning for a Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Eugene McCarthy, in Milwaukee and Chicago. Then in late August I attended a conference at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago with my friend Larry.

Martin Luther King had been assassinated in April. Robert Kennedy was assassinated soon after. Soviet tanks tore through crowds in Prague, breaking the back of a political and cultural call for freedom. The 1968 Democratic National Convention seemed poised to nominate Hubert Humphrey, a moderate senator from Minnesota, who would continue the war in Vietnam.

On Tuesday the leaders of the conference adjourned the meetings, suggesting that there was much more to be learned on the streets of Chicago that week. Larry and I first found crowds in Old Town, just north of the Loop, listening to speeches and music. I don't remember where we slept, but we spent the rest of the week downtown.

Thousands and thousands of young people filled Grant Park every day. Using portable loudspeakers, leaders talked about how to deal with tear gas. Marches and rallies were refused permits, the police became increasingly violent, and eventually even journalists like Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were roughed up in the International Amphitheater itself.

I remember marching out of Grant Park onto Michigan Avenue and then moving into a bottleneck on Balbo Avenue beside the Conrad Hilton hotel. (pictures at The crowd surged backward as police began attacking the front of the march. Plate glass windows of the hotel restaurant were broken as people were pushed into them. And sure enough, tear gas canisters were fired.

Before school started at Valpo that fall I went back to Lincoln and spent some time writing a long letter to the local paper, the Courier, for which I had been their ace apprentice reporter the summer before. The late '60s were times of great self-righteousness, and I was full of it too. In my letter it just boiled over.

I advocated burning the flag (reluctantly, of course). Vietnam was a mistake and everybody that knew anything ... knew that. America was no less a police state than the Soviet Union, and our so-called freedom was just a sham.

The editor published the letter with a special byline, acknowledging my role as a past cub reporter. And I went off to college.

Then the phone calls to my parents began. A few letters of disagreement appeared in the Courier. My parents didn't tell me much of what they were going through, until much later. And I guess I didn't think much about it either.

That was not the only time they quietly, and even against their own feelings and opinions, supported me. I was full of my own self-importance, certain of my rectitude, and quick to call any authority oppressive. In Lincoln, this just didn't go over very well. But I didn't take the hit. My parents did.

Over many years they guided me into a relationship with God which is more precious now than anything else in my life. Often enough they overlooked my obvious sins to find something to support instead. I have a feeling they knew this verse from Psalm 25. And I am very grateful.

Lord, your ways are not my ways. I am sure glad of that. Thank you for molding and shaping and breaking me into what you want. And for never giving up.

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