“Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat its mistakes.”
At times I’ve liked the sound of that, but I’ve often struggled to know what it meant. What are the mistakes? How can I not repeat them?
Perhaps part of the problem is that history is, in fact, written by the winners. Not only that, history is taught by the winners. This leaves little by way of “mistakes” to learn from.
Except, of course, for the mistake of taking the part of the losers, the defeated, the killed, the heretics.
But history is important. Increasingly, scholars from diverse fields are recognizing the importance of story telling for identity formation. The ways we think about and talk about the past contribute to who we think we are now, and thus provide guides for attaining the future we aspire to (and, indeed, what we would aspire to in the first place).
All of this is coalescing for me as I prepare to preach over Memorial Day weekend. Nationally, Memorial Day is a day that we set aside to “remember”–a remembrance that shapes our national identity as United Statesians.
But we need to be careful how we remember. We need to be careful “what” we remember. Because memory is part of story. And story shapes our lives.
As Christians, the history, the memory that defines us is our remembrance of the crucified Christ. “Do this in remembrance of me” marks our weekly memorial day.
It is a history that tells us that ours is the part of those whom history has conquered, even as Rome conquered Jesus on the cross.
It is a history that tells us that ours is the part of those whom history would dub mistakes and failures, even as Jesus’ little movement dubbed their following of Jesus to Jerusalem a mistake and failure and fled at his arrest.
It is a history that tells us that the way in which God gives life is a bestowal upon those who readily forfeit it for Christ’s sake and the gospel.
Yes, we must learn our history, or we will repeat its mistakes.
But if we don’t remember rightly, we might just find ourselves avoiding the very mistakes that define us as the people of The Crucified.