Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Jonal entry 1086 | January 15 2009
There are few things I'm more pleased with as an accomplishment in my life than the role the Nanty Glo Home Page played in the creation of the Valley's historical and museum society (which the Tribune-Democrat has actually exaggerated a bit in a couple of reports). History has always been a favorite topic in my life, so I was surprised and nonplussed to hear someone I've long respected say recently that he could care less about history; why should he care about all those dates and things that happened in the past? What can we do about them?
I bought my first camcorder back around 1980 because I was so impressed by "Living History Days" at San Jose's historical park that I decided I had to make a record of it for my own reference and entertainment. The park is the site of many historic buildings from San Jose's early days with authentic lawns and dirt streets and, in some cases, boardwalks rather than concrete sidewalks. The buildings are full of implements from past generations of life in the city (which is now California's third most populous but which, only 59 years ago, 1950, had a smaller population than Johnstown then did). "Living history days" consisted of a weekend of reenactmentsplaying outin costume events in the city when it was part of the old wild west, with chickens, sheep, and pigs living just outside the back doors of some of the city's dwellings and gunfights sometimes erupting in the downtown bars (just like happened also in the 1980s and continue since).
In school, I must admit, history was probably my third-most-liked subject, after English and geography. And in high school there were no geography courses and the English was so poorly taught that I often dreaded going to the classes. But the history teacher was one of my favorites, even though I also often wondered why we had to memorize all those dates and factoids about the past to regurgitate in tests and then forget. I always hated memorizing, although I always prided myself in being able to quickly master the script of a play I had a part in.
John F. Kennedy became President when I was a freshman in college and he was known as a man with a keen "sense of history." That had several meanings, as most things do, including the idea that he was keenly aware of his own place in history and was always working to enhance it. But I guess that's better, in a President of the world's most powerful economy, than ignoring all such considerations. But it was obvious when he spoke that he had a sense of where the current situation fit in a longer view of the nation's and even the world's history, and tried to make the public aware of it. This is an even better trait.
In the most widely confessed creed of Christendom, The Nicene Creed (381 A.D.), we say "He suffered under Pontius Pilate," as a way of recognizing the fact that Jesus Christ was a historical person and that Christianity is rooted in history. Pilate was a political leader in a specific era and a real geographical province of Imperial Rome. In fact, if we understand Christian doctrine, we believe that the life of Jesus, His death and resurrection, were the crux of history, not only "the history of redemption," but human history in general (and of course this is why the "Christian" world began dating all of history according to His time of birth and life). If Christianity is not historical, it's all "cunningly devised fables," as St. Peter said some people believe (2 Peter 1:16).
What can we do with all those "dead facts" about the past? Learn from them! Build on them. Without history, we have no foundation for our beliefs, hopes, rational thought, and our future. If history is not meaningful, life is meaningless and our hope of salvation is vain. There are probably many people who practice a religious life they consider Christian with few if any references to history, but that's not the religion Jesus wanted to impart to us. The Old Testament is largely the history of God's interaction with His creation and the apex of His creation, humanity, throughout the centuries and milennia before Christ. Christ's ministry consisted largely in bringing to the attention of his audiences how the Old Testament foreshadowed the Messiah and how He fulfilled those prophesies, and the ministries of the apostles in their Gospels and epistles (and their preaching, as recorded in Acts) ran with that proposition. All of Christian teaching, but also all practice of the church, hangs on the history of the Old Testament and its context for its message, as well as the "historicity" of the events related in the New Testament. Neither Testament was written primarily as a history book, of course, but they must comport to historical events and facts to be believable in any other sense.
Without "history" there are no laws (no basis on which to persuade a judge or jury something is proper and acceptable or its opposite, an affront on human life and the community) and there are no logical arguments. Everything is new, but of course that just means that everything is meaningless. In that case, we should pray not "give us our daily bread" but would be better off praying "give us our daily accidents," because all of life and the universe are just accidents in an ahistorical worldview.
When my printer's type began to grow faint, I called a local repair shop, where a friendly man informed me that the printer probably needed only to be cleaned. Because the store charged $50 for such cleanings, he told me, I might be better off reading the printer's manual and trying the job myself.
Pleasantly surprised by his candor, I asked, "Does your boss know that you discourage business?"
"Actually it's my boss's idea," the employee replied sheepishly. "We usually make more money on repairs if we let people try to fix things themselves first."
Michelle R. St. James