Our annual cross country biker group calls itself the Gray Hogs, in a veiled allusion to Tim Allen’s movie Wild Hogs. Two prime requirements to be a Hog: you don’t need to belong to the Harley Owners’ Group, just pack a few extra pounds, and to sport some gray hair. Oh yeah, and to ride a bike and to get along with the charter members.
Even so, old totally dominated a day on our recent ride to the Taos NM area. We visited the country’s oldest continuously occupied residence, Taos Pueblo, which dates back to 1000 AD. A bit later in Santa Fe we explored the country’s oldest church, the San Miguel Mission from 1610 (I snuck up and rang the bell before learning they allowed it), the oldest seat of government from colonial days with Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors, also 1610, and what some claim to be the country’s oldest residence, the De Vargas Street House, from 1646.
I felt younger with every stop along the way. Ironically, all remained in good, functional condition, probably better than me. Then riding up Pecos Canyon to our cabin, we passed this decaying log cabin that dates back to sometime in the 1800s. As you can tell, its condition didn’t match the older structures.
But all this caused me to ponder the past. Particularly, our roots. My conclusion: to comprehend our present we need to understand our past in order to effectively strategize for the best future. That applies to countries, churches, individuals. We can only fully engage others when we “get” our past and their past. That enhances understanding.
No, historical determinism doesn’t chain us to what’s happened. Change happens, for good and bad. But the past lays the bricks of the present building, and when we change the structure we need to know the foundation.
One arena—our country build a foundation with bricks of faith from the Judeo-Christian tradition. My BA is in history, my teaching arena is American literature, and that conclusion is inescapable. But we’re changing; some say we’re now a post-Christian nation. Certainly, that’s the current direction. Those positive about those changes need to grasp the past just as those who are negative need to grasp the present. Only then can we wisely interact with one another.
Another arena—many get depressed over the shrinking size and influence of today’s church. History reveals this is not a new issue. Just read Judges, God’s people had spiritual direction from a judge or king, he died, the society departed from God and experienced bad consequences from their moral relativism, and came back to God: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Knowing the pattern helps us to not get overly discouraged about the long term state of God’s people, doesn’t it?
Last, we individuals need to know how events and people from our past have shaped us. A silly example. My step grandfather’s work frequently took him away from home and because his wife, my dad’s mom, didn’t much like to cook, she took them out to eat most of the time. A financial extravagance she was willing to pay. But dad grew up hating to eat out, and we rarely did. He cherished his stable home. As an adult myself, I loved going to a coffee shop and just reading and writing poetry and observing people. My grandmother shaped my dad who shaped me. But we’re talking about spiritual formation, not eating habits, right?
Kick Starting the Discussion
Spent some time pondering how your past has influenced you. What were some of the major positive events and people? Specifically, how did they shape you? Do the same with any negative issues. Do you know much about how your parents and grandparents shaped your character and faith? If you can, get them talking about their lives and I suspect you’ll find some nice surprises. Do you see any family themes that transcend generations? And most important of all, how does all of this shape your attitude toward God and your faith in Jesus?
After you’ve done this, spend some time meditating and praying about how to deepen your walk with God, based on what you’ve found. What can you share with the rest of us who are on that journey?