August 19, 2013

History as Fertilizer (some very personal reflections)

Years ago, my favorite preacher laid down a challenge one night by saying, "I've never heard anybody teach Life." A few months ago I found myself reflecting again on that challenge, scrawling notes on a paper placemat. Instead of trying to turn them into a full essay now, I'll just transcribe them as was, and then comment below.


How does one "teach Life"? How does one instruct, didactively issuing propositional truth, without imposing a fixed immobility of ideals, without quenching the desire for creativity, for dynamic expression, for ...

Tell stories. Fiction & Non-fiction...

This is History, not as blueprint, not as exemplar, but as fertilizer for the imagination. It is the very particularity of History (when properly done) and the infinite variability of context (contexts gone by in the past). This is precisely what tells us that History cannot be preached, as if it's triumphs bear repeating and its failures bear avoiding. History cannot be repeated and History cannot be avoided. (Ignored, certainly, but never avoided, as all that has gone before now has indeed founded this moment.)

Thus, instead of shaping history as a mold for contemporary actions...

What if History is most productive in our present day experience only when re-composted.

George Washington is long since food for worms, and cannot save us now. More importantly, no amount of lionizing via any perspective can ever make us... [? inspire us to be something we're not ?]

Instead of saying, "This is what the past was like and so, too, should our future be" the most we can honestly achieve is to learn the infinite powers of sometimes and maybe.

The only sure lesson of History is that nothing ever works out as anyone intended. If, therefore, you and I do not know what our efforts may achieve, then why toil, why LIVE? Why present a History of any sort at all?

For Heritage. For Fertilizer.

Imagine the past, as it was, as it was, as nearly as we can know it to have been, as it was. Not as we might wistfully suppositionally hope it to have been. See what worked & what didn't. Acknowledge the world's infinite variabilities. And then boldly try something new!


As much as anything, I suppose this sums up how completely my changed feelings have cemented themselves since the days when "The New Testament Story" was our model for church life, in Georgia and Florida. There is no single model of doing church in the NT. There never was. And yet, there is much that has been overlooked that may yet inspire, that is worth re-viewing for it's own sake, as it was, as it was, as it was.

This also touches on some aspects of how I feel about these "Social Memory" theories I've begun studying. Although I appreciate more and more the value of understanding how communities shape and mold their preferred version of past stories, the field has enflamed my insecurities about writing anything that comes across as *my* own preferred version of things. And, worse, in studying Irony this year I've realized that whatever *I* publish will, by definition, stand *as* my own preferred version of things. Unavoidably.

For all practical purposes, I become more and more completely antiquarian, except that eschewing agendas is, itself, technically, an agenda. At any rate, none of this seems likely to attract much of an audience. At least, not as of yet.

I know, I know. Many of you have encouraged me to just keep doing my thing. And yet I keep on chasing this horizon of greater literary ambition, and here's hoping even that hasn't all been for naught.

Something should shake out here before long. Especially now that I'm settling in (again) at work. Fourth new job in as many years. First one with a future. Promoted after six months. Finally starting to find time to re-focus on all this. We may find out if it's really as simple as that.

Thanks for reading.

Anon, then...

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-- Isaac Newton