Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why History Matters

My job at the barn was to clean out the office while Asherel went on her riding lesson. Jill was apologetic, assigning me this duty.
"I tried to keep it clean after you organized it the last time, but well..." she flung open the office door and we looked in, " I just can't."
"It's ok," I comforted her, "I love this kind of stuff. I am good at this."
(And frankly, it is a heck of alot easier than chipping away at the concrete goat poop sludge that was my last job.)
And I am very good at organizing, especially if it is not my stuff. Jill left me a large garbage bag and told me not to worry where I stashed stuff- she would find it eventually. This is the kind of carte blanche instructions that make an organizer's heart flutter with delight. I only had an hour but if it didn't matter where I put things, my job was definitely within my pay grade.

Jill and the crew saddled up while I started at a pile of junk on the right hand corner of the floor, a tangle of objects stuffed under a saddle. I pulled out an ancient, spider web gooey old rotary dial desk telephone. It had some frayed wires and the dialer popped in and out of place. I hurried out of the office to catch Jill before she left.
"Do you want me to toss this?"
"No..." she said, looking a little abashed, "I want to keep that and try to fix it. Do you know one of my students saw that when I found it in the hay loft and asked me what it was? Wouldn't it be cool to repair it? Kids today have no idea that is a phone!"
Jill is young- certainly not half way through thirty. She would never have used a phone like this either. What was it about the lost history that touched her, I wondered? I dusted off the phone and put it on a high shelf. I suspected it would never be repaired, but I thought it seemed grateful to have escaped the garbage bag.

We are studying the Revolutionary War  in our homeschool. History was my least favorite subject when I was a student in school, but my favorite now that I am an adult. I am fascinated by it, particularly by the motivations and descriptions of the main characters in the saga of our country's birth. I want to generate that same level of interest in Asherel, to convince her that history is filled with wonderful exciting stories, sobering moral lessons, valuable insights that can guide our future. It is perhaps the hardest job a teacher of young people has- how does one convince someone with so little history of their own that all this panorama of history matters?

We just finished a book on Benedict Arnold. While part of me despises Arnold, part of me feels very sorry for him. As we finished the book, and reached the end where he dies in poor health, despised by both Americans and Britain, never achieving the status of hero that he longed for, I said, "I feel so sorry for him, don't you?"
"No," said Asherel, "Why do you feel sorry for him?"
"Well, I know he was despicable, but he was so self deluded. He never recognized, or admitted that what he did was treason. He was always rationalizing his behavior. He never understood that he was the source of his problems. He always blamed others, or his circumstances."
She looked at me, as though that hardly was sufficient basis for my pity, given his crime.
"We are all self deluded to some degree," I said, "I mean, we may not go and commit treason, but we do other things and try to feel better about ourselves by blaming everything but ourselves."
And the other sad thing about Benedict Arnold was his motivation. He wasn't motivated by great and noble desires, like so many of the patriots. He was motivated by the lure of money and fame. One of the greatest lessons of Benedict Arnold, in my opinion, is: examine your motives.

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, He had been fasting for forty days. He was certainly starving, and there would be nothing sinful in eating at the end of his time of prayer and fasting. However, Satan tried to lure him by telling Him,  if you are the son of God, all you have to do is turn the stones into bread! Just do it!
This temptation of Christ is one of the most interesting parts of all History. First of all, why is eating when you are starving a sin? And why does Jesus resist Satan on this point? What are His motives in doing so?
Obviously, eating when we are hungry is a good and natural desire. However, for Jesus, this temptation reveals the perplexing dual nature of His mission. He is both completely Divine, and completely Man, a duality that I cannot understand, but still trust to be true. And assuming it is true is the only way I think this first temptation makes any sense. He is the son of God, and He is hungry and His period of fasting nearly over. Satan would never say to a mere man, "Turn these stones into bread!" because no man could do so. Satan knows that, so Satan is tempting Him as God. Jesus as man would want nothing more than to eat at that moment, but He was not sent to the desert to eat...He was sent to the desert to resist the temptations of Satan. If He turned the stones into bread, He would no longer be relying on His Father to supply His needs, and most importantly, He would be using His divine nature to escape the trials of His human nature. Should He succumb to this relatively simple test, how would He ever remain on the Cross? Satan's taunt in the first temptation is eerily reminiscent of the taunts of the crowd when He is crucified, "...save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the son of God!"
History teaches us so much that is worth knowing! Especially, His Story.

Jill returned and looked at the clean office.
"Wow," she said, "I promise I will try to keep it like this."
"I put your phone up there," I said, pointing to the shelf, "I dusted it off a little."
"I know it seems silly to keep it...." she said.
"Not at all," I said, smiling at her, "I totally understand."

Matthew 4
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Matthew 27:39-41


39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.

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