Tag Archives: history

“There Is Nothing New Under the Sun”

“There is nothing new under the sun,” writes the wise man in Ecclesiastes (1:9).

That argues for knowing something about what has already taken place under this old sun. And that means learning, and learning means reading. Three cheers, for sure, for math, science, and technology, but, however proficient we are with them, if we’re willfully ignorant of history, we’re just technologically advanced (and very dangerous) fools.

You see, the same challenges keep cropping up in this old world. At their deepest level, the waters every generation must navigate have been traversed before. George Santayana long ago told the truth: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Along this line, I think I’d like to propose legislation that requires high level elected officials to spend at least an hour a day reading history. They can easily prune the time from what they’d normally spend fund-raising or generally blathering, and (this is scary) reading a book might be a new experience for many of them. Why would we ever trust anyone willfully ignorant of the past to try to plot a course for the future?

By the way, pastors who know nothing about church history are every bit as frightening as the politicians I’ve just taken a swing at. The mountains Christians of all eras have made from molehills are the very same ones ancient Christians shoveled up to trip over.

This morning I enjoyed another of James Kiefer’s brief biographical sketches, this one on the life of Church of England Archbishop William Laud (born 1573).

Kiefer writes that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, some Christians in England (Puritans) objected to clergy and choir members wearing a garment called a surplice. Cassocks (a garment normally black and floor-length) were okay, but these folks strenuously objected to the wearing of the surplice, “a white, knee-length, fairly loose garment with loose sleeves” because it was not specifically mentioned in Scripture and because it had been a custom of Roman Catholics. (It’s basically the same thinking, Kiefer notes, that caused Puritans and their many descendants to object to Christmas and a host of other practices.)

Archbishop Laud felt that the garment was nonetheless “seemly and dignified,” but the Puritans persisted to protest religiously, stinkily, loudly, and even violently. One group of Puritans broke into an Oxford chapel one night, stole surplices, and stuffed them “into the dung-pit of a privy.” This was just one issue, but Laud, increasingly unpopular, was eventually imprisoned and hanged as he prayed for peace and an end to bloodshed. (You can sing this story to the tune of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Archbishops.”)

Until I read that, I didn’t know a surplice from a surplus. It was new to me, but the “rock” upon which those folks wrecked is no new danger to navigation. The Puritans were neither the first nor the last to try to twist the New Testament into a book of codified law. The Apostle Paul warned ages ago (read 2 Corinthians 3) that if we seek salvation through stone-cold law rather than through God’s Spirit, we’ll end up fussing, fighting, and wrecking our souls on tables of stone. That course, trusting in a code rather than a Savior, has never led to life and joy and peace; it can’t, and it never will.

No, there really is nothing new under the sun. I doubt we could make any truly new mistakes even if we worked incredibly hard at it. But it would be nice, and a God-honoring move in the right direction, to try to avoid stumbling over so many old ones.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


An Old Picture Inspires Some Timely Thoughts

 

DPvidagracealf-pond-edit1

 

C.S. Lewis writes that the very fact that time itself seems so strange and surprising to us is proof that we were not originally created to live in it as our natural habitat. Presumably, fish don’t feel wet in water, but we fight with time continually.

Within just a few days I’ve officiated at the funeral of a dear friend, helped bear the caskets of my uncle and his dear wife to the open graves in the family cemetery I’ll be mentioning, and held in my arms my newest granddaughter, Ella Vernell Shelburne. Time seems to stand still as I gaze into that beautiful face. I could hold her forever. But standing still is exactly what time never really does here.

My oldest brother once scanned and shared some great family photos he’d borrowed from our Uncle David (who I just mentioned). My favorite is a wonderful picture of my maternal grandfather, Granddaddy Key,  who died back in 1975.

I never remember Granddaddy as having anything but a full head of the thick, cottony white hair. But in this old picture, my dark-headed grandfather is wearing a big cowboy hat and is dressed in a white shirt with a vest and ribbon tie. Maybe 12 years old, he sits beside his two daintily-dressed and lady-like young sisters who are wearing lacy white dresses complete with white bows and white ribbons in their hair. The three siblings are perched on a small dock jutting out into a little pond. Aunt Vida and Aunt Grace, looking pretty and pristine, each have an arm gently extended and are gazing down at the little white ducks feasting on the bread crumbs my great-aunts are dropping.

Granddaddy is looking calmly down into the water, and he’s feeding the pond populace, too, but with a different goal. He’s holding a cane pole with line and hook attached, and he’s waiting for the tug that will mean the end of the worm on the hook below.

In the distance, sitting cross-legged, relaxing and lost in thought, gazing across the pond from the other bank, is my great-grandfather Alf Key who was born in the same week Abraham Lincoln died. Alf has a big hat, too, and, if you already know to look for it, you can just maybe make out the tips of his big wide moustache.

I can’t see the eyes of any of them. They’re all looking calmly down or across the pond, just feeding the ducks, or the fish, or just thinking.

But they make me think.

Real people, their blood runs in my veins and in Ella’s. Three of them were, in that picture, far younger than I am now. All have long since gone on, their bodies at rest in the little country cemetery that sits just across a mesquite-filled pasture from the old windmill and the ruins of the old house where my mother was born. All of this, along with the tombstones, are quiet reminders that, as colleague Bert Mercer reminds me, “once there lived here a race of people a little lower than the angels.”

The human race. And in that old photo a little group of my ancestors eking out a living when life was truly hard, just taking some time to relax. To sit. To think. I never entered their mind. But they certainly have entered mine.

So much has changed, but what is truly important is exactly the same. You and I will pass on the values, the faith, the love that is the real legacy we are building today for generations yet unborn. Sooner than we think.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Some Honest Questions Seeking Honest Answers

 

civil war 02

I’ve tried to resist writing this column. Maybe not hard enough. May I say early on . . .

First, reality in general and history in particular, are rarely as simple, clear-cut and tidy as many folks would like to think.

Second, the winners of wars get to write most of the history. (Although I might mention here that one of the finest analyses of the American “Civil War” I’ve ever seen was written by Winston Churchill in a section of his excellent book, A History of the English-speaking Peoples.)

Third, just because the majority of the mainstream news media and other purveyors of political correctness believe something passionately does not even usually make it true.

The recent Confederate flag brouhaha (coming on the heels of real tragedy) reminds us that, though it’s amazing that the scars from the bloodiest war in our nation’s brief history have healed as well as they have, storms make the wound ache.

The best medicine for most wounds is honesty. Finding honest answers usually means asking honest questions of folks who are qualified to answer. I’m not qualified to answer, but here are some genuinely honest questions I’d like to ask those who are.

Slavery was surely far worse, far more brutal, far more evil than most of us can begin to imagine. I wonder if the Civil War actually hastened its real demise.

I wonder if the gasoline to which the match was set wasn’t really the clash of two different ways of life, northern industrialism and southern agrarianism, a clash that ended in explosion.

I wonder if it’s not far too easy, too simple, to say that the blue hats were the white hats and the gray hats were the black hats, good and evil lined up against each other.

I wonder if folks in our nation today can ever understand an age when good people who would be willing to die for this nation could love their states first and even be willing to go to war to defend them. We can hardly imagine that “United States” was once a plural.

Which brings me to Lee and Lincoln. I wonder how two of the finest men this land ever produced could find themselves on opposing sides. This alone would make me wonder if the line between the good guys and the bad guys is as clear as many find easy comfort in thinking.

I wonder if the prevailing politically correct opinion that the soldiers of the Confederacy fought primarily for slavery and the soldiers of the Union fought primarily for freedom is accurate.

I read a short article this week mentioning (try this title on!) “The Rt. Rev. Major General Leonidas K. Polk, CSA.” Polk was Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, and, almost before he knew what was happening, was commissioned as a Major General. His soldiering didn’t stop his preaching. He baptized Gen. John Bell Hood and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Struck by a shell, he died in the Battle of Pine Mountain, Georgia, on June 14, 1864.

Can we be pardoned for thinking that there were some very fine, some very bad, and, mostly, some very human and ordinary folks on both sides of that terrible war?

One thing seems clear. At the end, some of the very best folks (in my estimation), Lincoln and Lee, were united in calling for mercy, healing, unity, and grace.

It’s a call we all still need to heed.

 

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


%d bloggers like this: