If we fail to understand our own history and the history of the faith communities to which we may belong, we're going to set ourselves up for a repetitive cycle of errors and pains.
And by knowing our history, I mean honestly facing what our ancestors did or didn't do -- not so we can feel inappropriate guilt for their misjudgments but so that we can acknowledge what went wrong and make better choices.
Many faith communities devote some resources to that task. In my own denomination, for instance, there's the Presbyterian Historical Society. And in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), there's the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, of which my friend Glenn Thomas Carson is president.
The other day, when I received my new copy of DH: Disciples History Magazine, I flipped through and was intrigued by one of the workshops available: "The Stormy Question: Christian Churches and the Slavery Issue." So I went online to the link I've just given you in the previous sentence to see what's there.
It's a brief but intriguing look at how the Disciples of Christ split over and fought over slavery, and what all of that has meant for the denomination.
As the site tells visitors, "The church and the nation were 'houses divided' in the decades before the war. Most Disciples of Christ reflected the opinions and biases of the sections of the country in which they lived."
And there's perhaps the first lesson: To remember that from our particular vantage point we may not be seeing the full picture.
It's a lesson I write about in the chapter called "Race" in my new book, Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans. Here's part of what I say:
"The reality was that most of us Middle Americans grew up benefiting hugely from what sociologists now call 'white privilege,' but we were so deeply entangled in it that only when those outside our system began to point it out and question it did we even recognize the sea in which we swam. Eventually, however, many Middle Americans did come to understand that they were part of a system that routinely gave advantages to one on the basis of race just as it denied rights, privileges and advantages to another on that same basis. Even today not all Middle Americans recognize that reality but many more do so than when I was a child."
It's this kind of enlightenment -- however slow -- that good church historical societies and good congregational historians can foster.
So cheers for the Disciples of Christ Historical Society for doing just that. (I borrowed the artwork here today from the Disciples' site.)
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CAN WE CREMATE JUST THIS?
So when someone you love dies, will you drive the funeral director nuts with odd requests? Perhaps, but I hope not as odd as the ones described in this blog, "Confessions of a Funeral Director." Oh, my.