As you may be able to tell, I love history. Not so much for the facts and the details, or just for the subject itself, but because I find it so helpful to know what has happened before today, how life has been lived before, how others have tried to solve the problems and challenges that we are still trying to conquer. The whole idea, The Big Idea, of this blog, is that history can really help us as we do ministry today. History is empowering.
But, history can also be enabling, and crippling. I saw this cartoon in a recent issue of The Week. It captures how our own history, or at least our own recollection and re-telling of our history can became an excuse and a justification of our current actions. We do it as nations and peoples, and not just the Israelis and Palestinians. We do it as individuals: “if you knew the kind of childhood I had you wouldn’t judge me.”
On the other hand, here is one of my favorite quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” That is, when we know their history we can understand who they are and what they do better.
The question is: When does our history cease to inform, instruct, and perhaps explain us and begin to move into the dangerous territory of justifying our bad actions and assisting us in avoiding change and growth. When is our history an excuse for not accepting responsibility for what we do today?