J. Deotis Roberts wrote that “All human thought is limited and is often bent in the direction of its exponent.” Our thinking is bent toward our objective and comes from the experiences we cling to.
This is why I appreciate theological reflection and critique, especially when it comes from what smart people have called the underside. The underside is the place where voices rise and sometimes holler but are generally avoided. The underside and its chorus of voices goes ignored because the content of that people’s critique is powerful and almost incredible to most folks with power.
Remembering well is hard work. And it is spiritual work. When we recall the events of our lives, or of our nation’s life, we are performing something powerful. Of course, every memory is pulled together again–remembered–but during remembrance we are given the chance to recall the gifts and tragedies, the pleasures and pains of what has happened before.
I think that when we don’t remember well we ready our hearts and push the hearts of others toward war. We create dynamics where we devalue story and history and, inevitably, truth from the underside.
Finally, a few points about how telling story relates to war or peace and to a people’s faith.
1) History should be taught to the disinherited, the left out and the least of these. When listening to our country’s stories from the perspective of, and for the purpose of explaining that overall story to, the disinherited, we always end up telling everybody’s story. No one is left out of history when we start telling from the bottom or from the fringe. On the other hand, we always exclude when we start from positions of power.
2) Perhaps honor is the wrong word. Soldiers and slaves should be remembered. It’s an individual’s choice whether they should be honored. Indeed, the governor of Virginia (and maybe Mississippi) chose to lift confederate soldiers as worthy of honor while suggesting implicitly and explicitly that the same was not due to Black slaves. In my faith, we teach that God gives people free will. Choosing to esteem someone is a person or a people’s choice. This means that some states or churches or neighborhoods will make decisions that you disagree with and that you have be strong enough to value choice.
3) Past injuries sit with us and they form us. To deny that is foolish. To gloss over it is wreckless–whether its done by a governor or preacher or journalist or saleswoman. We bring our spiritual experiences from yesterday to what happens tomorrow. Even when those hurts are healed, the presence of those wounds (in the form or scars or markings) is with us. We should know the stories of our wounds no matter what a proclamation says.
Questions for you: What does it mean to tell stories, particularly stories about war and slavery? Do we have some spiritual responsibility to the men and women whose lives were given around our nation’s Civil War? If so, what?