Onward and Upward: American Religion as Preparation for Unification Ideals

By David Payer

There are cultural forces from generations past that work unseen, influencing choices of a population.

These images, expectations, aspirations, and rules of thumb are taught through a weave of social institutions including church, government, educational and cultural organizations, broadcast media, and especially family.

Every family has stories that cause an instant reaction in the members. One joke retold dozens (yes, possibly hundreds of times) while growing up can be summarized with a single phrase or word and all the years of experience will be summoned back for reflection and enjoyment.

If I were to say “you can’t get there from here” to my brother or sister,  an abundant laugh would emerge and years of memories about our father jesting of a man lost in the Iowa countryside driving back from a job, would be sparked — each one with a tale of its own.

Recently, an office meeting ended with the admonition: “Onward and upward!” and one of those “aha” moments stirred within. This was a phrase used by my parents and grandparents when an episode or an era was marked as ended and yet we had to carry on to the next task.

Even if something was not accomplished with success, we would move “onward and upward” to the next goal, always carrying on because that is what we must do. Life will continue regardless of what we do but we can decide to go forward and live to the best of our ability or allow it all to pass us by and miss out on any blessings it had to offer at that moment.

What was the root of this exhortation? My online search helped uncover a poem written in 1845 by James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis.”  This poem addresses the evil of the era (slavery) and the need for us to adjust our views to that current reality:

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