More Than Dates & Dead People*
This weekend is Memorial Day, and besides all the cookouts and pool parties we've decided as a nation it's important to set aside at least one day per year when we remember. We remember those who have come before us. We remember the sacrifices they made -- sacrifices which have enabled us to enjoy the lifestyles we currently enjoy. As I've been thinking about what I'll be preaching this weekend, I've spent a lot of time pondering what history is -- and perhaps what it should be.
I love history, and I'm convinced that lots of you do, too!
After all, there's a whole channel on TV devoted to nothing but history. Some of the most popular books, movies and miniseries of the recent past have dealt with history. Those Jim Burns documentaries are history, and they're fantastic. Lots of you think so.
What's not to love about history? It's full of murder and betrayal, love and discovery. There are explorers launching out into the great unknown to find gold or rescue a damsel in distress. Kings and Queens. Sailors and soldiers. Spies. Double crosses. Noble deaths. Revenge. This is high drama!
So, how in the world did our high school history teachers convince us that history was boring? How did they manage to reduce history to a series of dates and dead people?
History is something more, isn't it? Something bigger than a textbook. And it's something vitally important -- not just because of that great quote about how people who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. History is important for lots of reasons. For example, looking back into history allows us to discern the patterns that may help us successfully navigate the future. History reveals how we got where we are and, at least to some extent, how we've become who we are.
I know there are those who disparage history. They say that history is just a fable everyone agrees upon (I think Napoleon said that). They claim that history has always been rewritten by those who won wars in an attempt to justify their own cause and vilify their enemies. I'll concede the point...a little. Objectivity is impossible, and historians always have a bias. But real events really happened, and historians with integrity seek to get as close to the objective truth as possible. At least they ought to.
Some say we should just embrace this new way of looking at history to the extent that we simply allow everyone to tell their own version of how things went down -- with no regard for veracity. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, after all.
But I can't buy that. I can't buy it academically, and I can't buy it theologically. That's right: my theology informs my view of history.
Does yours? If so, how?
*Apologies to Stephen Mansfield for stealing the title of this post from his fantastic little book which all of you should buy.