Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We Are Who They Were - a 'guest' post :)

I had another blog, long ago. Like other neglected blogs, it has now been lost in the murky waters of unnoticed cyberspace. I wrote this post on that blog about two years ago. I still remember writing it, while I was working at the stadium, where I hardly ever did anything but transfer the occasional phone call and write papers for my homework.

In a swirl of history and literature classes that semester, a spark hit my mind and ignited: the reality of the continuity of human history, the multitude of events and ideas that shaped the past, and now shape us. The idea that we can't escape history, even when we're ignorant about it. The past isn't something that's gone; we all carry bits of it. I'm not just talking about simple traditions or stuff we blindly do because that's how it's done. I mean thousands of years of time and people, all doing things and having ideas, the way we think, how we view reality itself. History is not all in the past.

Nobody ever commented on the original post, which couldn't possibly mean it was uninteresting to everyone but me. The only possible explanation is that nobody saw it, or they couldn't comprehend it due to my poor capitalization skills.  So I've gone to the trouble of capitalizing the proper words (back in the day, I didn't do that) and have revised it VERY slightly.

Have you ever wondered why we do the things we do? Either you and me individually, or maybe our entire culture? Why are we like this? Can we - individually or as a whole culture - develop independently of and differently than those who have lived before us?

I've come to be convinced that the understanding of current times, at least in a very large way, lies in the past. The study of history illuminates today with a clarity and wonder that cannot be otherwise manufactured. The more history I learn, the more I understand about today, my culture, myself. I make no exaggerations. Then was another time, another place, another culture. But we wouldn't be who we are without the ideas, expectations and behaviors set in place by those very long ago. We are who they were.

Many of us believe we are independent thinkers (which, ironically, is also an idea given to us by some who lived before we did). But, how we think is in a very large way determined by the history of older civilizations. The way of thinking in thirteenth-century French romances has bled into your mind whether you've ever read Lancelot stories, and the influence of ancient sages like Plato -- removed from us by miles and millenia -- permeates our schools, churches, families, and even our deepest perceptions of reality. Ever read any Shakespeare? Even if you haven't, you've used the words and phrases and metaphors he invented. The very language we speak, our tool of fundamental communication, is a product of stone-age nomads, Roman military maneuvers and road-builders, and rosters of warriors, crusaders, emperors, despots. The way our classrooms are set up -- even the very concepts of teachers, students and exams -- is a result of decisions and controversies made by pompous theologians and traveling humanists during the Renaissance. And the ideals of religious and political freedom we hold so dear, often as dear as our faith? They showed up in the sixteenth century, in books by a band of Enlightened rebels, who efficiently usurped the Christian conviction that God raises and removes kings.

My friends, we - you, me, our culture, many cultures - are a conglomeration of them - the ancients, the rebels, the teachers and the poets.

They are indelibly stamped in our very cores. And if there is one thing I've learned in my literature and history studies, it's that those who write are the boldest tools of radical change throughout history. A word spoken is gone; written, that same word has the potential to become immortal and affect millions.

Just like the lives and texts of ancient times affect us so strongly, our lives and ideas will affect those far after us. This postmodernist culture is the forerunner for another kind of culture, whether or not they will know about how postmodernism worked. The writers of the books today will be -- even create -- the history that is studied and embedded in peoples' worldviews. The way our churches work, what our priorities are and how we influence our surroundings, will be the mark left on future Christians and pagans alike, regardless of how much they knew about us. Whether or not the future will know about what made us tick (perhaps they, too, will be mad with the idea that they are independent), they will be patchworks of all that have come and gone -- of our culture, of you and me, who are ourselves quilts of ancient expressions.

It's something to think about.

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