Friday, October 8, 2010

"History is difficult to predict . . . "

. . . was apparently (according to something I heard on the radio this week) an oft-quoted proverb in the former Soviet Union as past events--and the traditional understanding of them--were given new meanings to conform to the prevailing ideology. What the proverb suggests is that there is more than one way to interpret the past. Some feminist theologians, for example, by reading scriptures with an "hermeneutic of suspicion"*, have uncovered some pretty startling things for people within religious traditions. Recognizing that "history is usually written by the winners" leaves a lot of important material out of the discussion. Perspective is important. Careful reading is important. And, as an historian myself, I confess that much of my work has been focused on giving new, alternative, interpretations to old circumstances. That's part of the discipline! How else would we sell books?

All of this implies that we bring a lot of our own "stuff" to understanding the past . . . including our own past, whether distant or nor-so-distant. And I believe it's important to be aware of that. One of the philosophies I embrace is "what we focus on becomes our reality". And many of us look at our own pasts with a lens that focuses on the negative aspects of that past, or with a lens that perpetuates the errors of the past. The resulting "reality" can become a kind of shackle that keeps us from moving forward.

I remember (as I imagine many of us can) some broken significant relationships. And the experience of being "dumped" or fired is no fun. "Will I ever love again? Will I ever get another job? Clearly I was inadequate, or (that) so-and-so wouldn't have shown me the door!" I recall a particularly depressing evaluation of one of my early dissertation chapters. My immediate thought was "Well, I guess I'd better just leave the program. I clearly haven't got what it takes." My own STUFF was getting in the way of a different reality. The fractured view I had kept me (for weeks) from talking with the people who could help me see a way through that dissertative log-jam. When I finally remembered that the vision they had of me when they admitted me to the program was probably more accurate than my wounded ego, I re-connected with them and moved forward.

The main difference, I think, is between despair and hope. I opt for hope. And I believe that most of our faith traditions point that way as well. We long for a vision of the future that builds upon pieces of the past -- the best pieces of that past, and leaves the dregs behind. Dig deep with me. Let's do some revisionist history-making on our individual and collective pasts and see what new future we can create!



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