The adage, “those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it,” acknowledges the benefits of looking back in time. Historical reflection not only keeps us from repeating mistakes, it encourages and guides us towards right ways of living and acting.
Take my son, for example. Regardless of how many times I asked him to hold my hand when we crossed the street, he resisted. Finally, in a moment of frustration, I shared a story from my own childhood about a trip with my family to the ice cream store. As soon as we parked the car, one of my brothers flew out and across the street towards the vendor, ignoring my mother’s request to take her hand. Breaks squealed. An oncoming car hit my brother and my brother hit the pavement. He was rushed to the hospital, but thankfully he suffered no serious injury.
Bingo. My son’s eyes grew large. That story resonated with him. It enabled him to accept a life lesson that no amount of instruction on my part could impose.
Just as my son was able to learn and grow by hearing about an event from my past, we need to learn and grow from stories within our faith community. Hearing about others’ experiences can help us avoid mistakes, but it can also help us to repeat some of the “God moments” in our collective lives.
Consider Hebrews 11. The writer seeks to inspire and encourage a persecuted fledging church. To do this, the author refers to men and women in the “faith hall of fame,” people who were not perfect but at one point embodied faith through their actions. Their stories had been told and retold through so many generations that the mere mention of their names—Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Rahab and Jephthah—sparked vivid accounts of faith.
In the next chapter, the author transitions from historical reflection to the current situation, imploring people to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus . . . he endured the cross, scorning its shame . . . so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Stories shared from within our own faith community hold exceptional authority by providing examples of God’s continuing work in the world. They connect listeners with faithful living in a new and refreshing way. Where are our congregational historians, our story tellers, our heroes?
What stories will we as the church tell and remember? What are our faith-forming examples of living the Jesus way? Do we share them openly and freely, or do we succumb to the increasing bombardment of stories circulated by popular culture that do not always uphold biblical principles?
Whose stories do we tell to shape our beliefs and our actions?
Conrad Stoesz is the Mennonite Heritage Centre archivist.
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