Thursday, August 25, 2011

History May not Be What You Think It Is

One of the things that I learned as I studied history in college (and as I have continued to read it) is that there is no such thing as an objective historian.  Even the most conscientious scholar brings certain perspectives, presuppositions, and paradigms to his or her research.  This may well determine what the researcher deems important and may either aid or encumber the discoveries made.

If this is true of history scholars, it is certainly true of each of us as we think about our own history.  Although our memories may be very vivid, they may not necessarily be accurate.  We usually see only one side of events, even those events that we experienced personally.  Our feelings about people and our place in the world provide the filters through which we see the events of our past.  We also impose interpretations that help us make sense of the past but they are our interpretations.

The person who says “This is not the church I grew up in” is not only saying something about the present but also about the past.  Certainly, the church has changed due to the influx of new people and the departure of the old due to death, relocation, or choice.  The thing that the speaker may not realize is that the church that he or she perceived in “the good old days” was not necessarily the church experienced by others at the same time.  The teenager, even the one who is actively involved in the congregation and its youth ministry, does not see the church the same way as that the middle-aged mother who teaches Sunday School, the long-term pastor, or the embattled chair of the deacons does!  There is a lot more going on than one person can perceive from a single point of view.

Very often we create our history out of our present day needs, picking and choosing the events and people that provide the support we need right now.  This is not necessarily unhealthy, but we should do this with a measure of humility, realizing the expectations we bring to the task.  Were the “good old days” necessarily that good?

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