I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. – Psalm 78:2-3
A parable is a story that conveys a lesson or teaches us a principle via analogy. It is sometimes qualified as being a succinct story – e.g., Christ’s various parables, though there is no set length for a parable. A “dark saying” refers to stating something in a hidden way, the meaning not being obvious on the surface, as is the case in allegories and often in mythology, legends, and folktales. A few posts back I talked about Elisha and woman of Shunem who was content to “dwell among [her] own people”. Our shared stories of the past, whether of our own family lines or regional folklore, constitute a major element of our identity.
I attribute much of the turmoil of the modern world to our general loss of connection to the past. Instead of obscure tales around the campfire, we sit before the flickering television screen to have all our lore mocked and our myths “busted”. Instead of fables about frog princes we have a frog dissected before us as science lays out the mysteries of life in plain view. In place of poetry we have rap and reality shows.
We should expect no end to the writing of histories, especially given the agendas of the progressive historians like Howard Zinn. Imagine if the Bible, in the Pentateuch and Joshua, rather than telling the tales of the Israelites and God’s intention for them to inhabit the Promised Land, told of the indignities suffered by the Egyptians or focused on the oppression and displacement of the people of Canaan. How would the Israelites have maintained their identity and founded a nation?
Revisionist historians argue that the Europeans were oppressors and invaders and displaced the native peoples just as the Israelites displaced the Canaanites. This ignores the larger truth that the history of humanity is a history of conquest and displacement. Should we ignore the fact that Israelites were oppressed slaves in Egypt or that most of the Europeans who came to America came to escape poverty, hopelessness, and various restrictions regarding economics and religion? Should we forget there was constant warring among the many indigenous tribes of Canaan or America? Was it not the case that one tribe conquered and displaced another? We might be ashamed of the atrocities committed by the invaders, but inhuman acts of savagery were perpetrated on both sides.
We have a right to our history. It is not the property of academics or politicians; our history belongs to us personally and culturally. There is no culture without history, without our stories of how we came to be, of our conquests and failures, our struggles and our destiny. I understand that history can easily become the exclusive property of the conquerors. But what if they were conquerors for a reason? God did not give Canaan to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob during their lifetimes. First the Canaanite culture had to fall into its ultimate decadence while the children of Israel had to have their culture formed and tempered in the forge of Egyptian oppression. The Israelites could be liberated under Moses and could conquer under Joshua because they knew who they were and understood their destiny. Their stories gave them a foundation for building a new nation.
The problem was that it did not last. When the kingdoms split after the death of Solomon, Jeroboam of Israel feared the reinforcement of cultural unity through worship at the Temple in the Jerusalem. To avoid this, he created an apostasy and erected idols, still referred to, at least initially, as Yahweh. He instituted a new order of worship with new priests to head up the sacrificial system. It may have borne some resemblance to the true worship as ordained by God through Moses, but it also made room for the customs and beliefs of the old Canaanite religions. The children of Israel, though racially the same, lost touch with their founding stories.
The consequences are documented further down in Psalm 78: The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle. They did not keep God's covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them (verses 9 through 11).
Without our stories, our lore and legends, we are a defeated people. We cannot afford to forget the Mayflower or Squanto, Washington at Valley Forge or Nathan Hale, Daniel Boone in Kentucky or Davy Crockett at the Alamo, San Jacinto, John Brown, Quantrill, Lee, Grant or Sherman, Stonewall or Pickett’s Charge. We must remember Crazy Horse, Geronimo, San Juan Hill and Alvin York, Prohibition and bootleggers, Audie Murphy, Patton, and Ike. It is even good to remember “I Love Lucy” and the ’57 Chevy – and Elvis. I am not so sure that Santayana was right when he said, “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” I am sure that if we forget our stories, we forget who we are and forget our aim.
The most important story to remember is the story of the Cross. It is here that God and man meet, at the intersection of the vertical and the horizontal. All of the past led to the Cross, and, it is from the Cross that the future is led. This is the overarching aim of history. To remember and to cherish the Cross is to find the direction to the Kingdom. His Story forgotten is like an unerring compass left on the shelf.
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone ?