Recently on various podcasts I like to listen to I was reminded that people like to hear stories. And, not only that, but a psychiatrist said we love to be in our own stories! That we establish for ourselves from a very early age the narrative that is our own life.
I know just about everyone, in cultures around the world, have always loved a good story. And we still do. Whether it’s historic, mythic, a fairy tale, or a suspenseful or detective story, a comedy, or a mystery, a parable or an allegory we love to hear what happens next once someone begins telling us a story. Whether it’s verbal or on a page or screen, once someone starts telling us the story, we want to know more. We want to know what happens to the main characters and how it ends.
Unless it’s the most boring storyteller or the most mundane occurrence, we usually want to hang around till the end of a story once it’s begun. Some fantasy stories are so ridiculous it’s hard to take them seriously. Others are so good, we wish real life were as fantastic!
I’ve pondered before the idea of the world’s story on my blog. But I also am thinking that part of our problem in our culture, in our faith life, and in our families is that we’ve forgotten to tell the stories to succeeding generations. And that can cause some huge problems, as I think is evident all around us every day.
In the words of Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride, (a favorite movie of mine), “Let me explain.” I think passing on stories is vital to any community, large or small. From the family unit of any size to a country or a religion, telling our stories to those who don’t know them crucially matters. And another way to look at this practice is to consider tradition. I’m no Tevya (See Fiddler on the Roof, a play I love, for more on that. The opening number will explain it all.). But I do believe that traditions matter and they help give meaning and depth to our lives.
For example? Well, for a couple of centuries – that’s two hundred years – plus, American citizens thought that our country’s beginnings and the founding documents were fairly amazing. Sure, there was the Magna Carta and those French did some equality, liberty, fraternity things over there. But no one was as good at the long range plan as our founding fathers. No one was as fair to the ‘little guy’ in what we have come to know as “fly over country,” or to the poorest of the poor. No one made it more clear that God gave us this opportunity to build something lasting, something where everyone could be represented (that would take us tragically too long, but a place to start was provided), something that gave everyone a voice and protected its right to share a message. No one had more Rights spelled out so clearly and definitively in a Constitution that it’s a wonder so many challenges have been sent to the Supreme Court concerning those rights. And we passed that knowledge on, we shared the stories of how this nation came to be.
G.K. Chesterton famously and beautifully wrote about our founding document,
“America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things.” – What I Saw In America
That about sums it up right there. Oh, sure the Declaration could have said “men and women.” But back then “man” and “mankind” really did refer to both sexes. But, as you’ll see below, the author was a product of his time. It’s understandable. I wrote and spoke about the Declaration of Independence several years ago. I will share that speech later in another post because it’s rather long. But here I just want to warn us all that we can’t start making up new stories without telling the originals. In fact, we shouldn’t make up stories at all in this instance; true stories are imperative.
We have much to be proud of in our country. We have overcome a lot. Giants in heart, mind, and spirit have sacrificed much, and not just on battlefields – even on our own streets and in our own courtrooms, churches, and jails to get us to where we are. But the ideals are solid, good, and worthy of emulation even to this day. Let’s not throw away the genesis of our nation and much of our past because we’re unhappy with the way some things are now. Their stories matter.
That foundation is strong, deep, and worthy of saving. Tell the nation’s story with reverence and appreciation. Tell it with honesty and humility, noting mistakes made and blindness that lasted for far too long. But show the beauty, truth, and goodness that is therein, as well. Invite those listening, those follow on generations, to join you in keeping the best parts that made us who we are and working to make us even better in the days to come. And let’s continue the project using the same foundation that provides ideals and concepts for freedom based on profound respect for the individual’s rights.
Some things that we’re not so proud of in our history were common around the world in that time and had been for centuries. But just as people can change and grow in their lifetime as their views and values change for the better, hopefully, so our country grew and changed for the better. Sometimes it was three steps forward and two steps back, but we moved forward. So let’s make sure the stories of the past are shared so an appreciation of where we came from and who we are is always remembered and passed on to our children’s children and beyond.
You can start today. It begins with Once upon a time…Share the battles, the victories, and remind your young audience that nothing is perfect; no one is above criticism. But also remind those listening that wisdom is gained through mistakes from which we learn. And tell them that some of the things in our distant past were normal for that time. So we can’t always use our modern sensibilities to judge those actions or laws, or lack thereof. We have evolved in our thought and in our customs and laws. Let’s not forget that. It’s rather unfair to use the 21st Century lens when looking back decades and more.
Ideals are worth working toward. Those are what our country was founded on. You and I can help future generations understand that. And, you knew if you have read anything I’ve written, that I had to remind you about God’s role in all of this. The Creator who endowed us with those “unalienable rights” is with us still. I would remind you that God will use anyone to advance His plan. Even the most flawed individual can move the story forward in the proper direction. Read just about any story in the Old Testament for proof of that. In that book, and in the New Testament, you will find the world’s story, not just America’s. But just as with our nation’s story, the Church’s story must be handed on. Tradition: there it is again. We have a responsibility when we know the truth to pass it on to others. Or when it passes away, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves…