We have been hearing a lot about history as confederate statues are being torn down or moved off of public squares to storage lockers and perhaps museums in the future. The great Southern author William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead, it is not even past.” Another Southerner, Martin Luther King once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
Every single human being is shaped by history. The history of their families and the history of everywhere they have ever lived. The roots of history that shape us goes far beyond our memories and remembrance and are lost in the mists of time. The Bible talks about the sins of the present generation affecting generations seven generations from now! I trust that this is also true of the good things each generation does.
This is one reason so much of the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament, is history. Now let it be said that the older history is the more likely it will be mythologized. Often it is scrubbed clean of any negative connotations. The heroes and heroines are made more heroic and come to be seen as paragons of the values a nation or people prioritize. They sometimes come to be more than they ever were in life.
I was reading an article about how white Christians were often complicit in Jim Crow laws and segregation. MLK correctly observed, “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” This was true in the 1960’s and long before that. Sadly it is still mostly true today, some 60 years after MLK made the observation. It is hard to overcome history. It is hard to learn the lessons of history because we don’t look at the whole historical record. We tend to pick and chose what history we remember.
We need to learn from history, not a sanitized version of history but history as near to how it happened as we can get. This will mean listening to the voices of the oppressed, to the weak, to those who all too often are ignored or run over by history. Archbishop Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, once said, “History will not tell us then what to do, but will at least start us on the road to action of a different and more self-aware kind, action that is moral in a way it can’t be if we have no points of reference beyond what we have come to take for granted.”
Grace and Peace, Pastor Scott