Puck's Life

Being Historically Minded

Frustrated with learning some perhaps arcane details of American history, my daughter once opined that she didn't like history, that history was dumb.  I said sure you like history.  She said no, I don't.  I asked her how, when she left the kitchen table, she would find her way back down the hall, up the stairs, and into her room.  She said because she remembered going there, of course.  I said see, you like history.  That's different, she said.  I said no it's not.  Stop it, she said.  Well, I guess I need to learn to let frustration, irrational as it may be, have its moment in peace, put reason in recess.

We are all historians.  We have to be.

Today, I took off my shoes, walked down the hall from the condo where we are having a short vacation, entered the elevator, pressed G, exited, walked past the pool, pushed open the gate to the beach, and eased into the sand of the dune, and then, cresting the dune, walking right, right on down the beach.  I know this way.  I could probably walk it in my sleep.  I remember.

One writer I read today said that "it's not the places or things themselves that are important; it's the memories they represent."  Nonsense.  This place came long before me and will exist long after me.  It was good before our race was given it.  God said so.  It may be imbued with deeper meaning because of me, because of all who have come here, but it gave God pleasure long before we came on the scene.  It was good.  The meaning of the place is, in the end, a mystery.  God looked and saw it in a way so much deeper than we will ever see it --- every grain of sand, every creature in the swirling deep --- and He knew it as good in a fuller sense than we can ever know.  It doesn't need me in order to mean something.

Consider for a moment the long (indeed infinite) memory of the Creator, if indeed, being timeless he is not in all times at all time.  (Did I just say what I think I said?  I'm not sure I understand what I said.)  That is, when The Psalmist asks God to "remember," when Abraham reminds him of his covenant with Israel, it is an audacious thing for the creature to speak so boldly to the Maker of history.  Sure, He remembers.

Still, God has assigned us all the vocation of remembering --- of cultivating and seeding the living present with the knowledge of a dead past so that we remember who we are, how we got here, and how we get home.  Not only that, we live in a community --- a family, church, region, state, and nation --- that is animated by a collective memory, a myth, if you will.  Better yet, and rightly viewed, a true myth: the myth of creation, fall, redemption, and resurrection --- hallmarks of the Gospel, the end of all time.

Now, do you remember how to get to your room?  Do you remember how to get home?  Do you remember who you are?  That's history, and it's not dumb.  History speaks to us everyday.

Historian Jay Green says that while the historical profession has an important role to play in faithfully (if imperfectly) reconstructing the past, "the calling to think and act in historically minded ways is a more broadly human assignment."  It is for the Christian, he says, an "indispensable category of faithfulness."

We are made for remembering.  I remember I am but dust.  I am a crooked stick.  I have gone wrong and have continually veered off course.  I forget who I am.  But He remembers all that, and lifts me up out of miry clay, and calls me blessed, a little lower than angels.  If he remembers every grain of sand I walk on today, how much more He remembers me.

My daughter actually is a great historian, a master of my personal and family history of sometimes stupid jokes, unfullfilled promises, and little embarassments.  And yet, like the One who made her, she is gracious and chooses to forget my transgressions.  Well, mostly.  (For that matter, my whole family does.)  And yet her anti-history, her forgetfulness, is a reminder of God's perfect forgetfulness of my sin.  He sees past, present, and future through the Cross, and He forgets my wrong.  Perfectly forgets. Deliberately forgets.

Thank God.