Archive for June, 2017

Strange Fire

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

The normal life of a movement/organization like this, the homeschool movement, is 25 years. Organizational theory tells us that we are in the status quo phase moving to the decline stage. At this point, we have more invested in the infrastructure of the movement than we should. We are after profits to pay for our substantial investments in the institution. I say this with no prejudice. For profit and not for profit–all are forced to hustle to make ends meet. This quells the prophetic spirit and invites sensational–to use homeschool patriarch Steve Lambert’s word “strange fire.” We have to draw the masses so we invite the dilettante, the unusual, the opinionated to fill our keynotes. The purpose is to invite more people and pay the bills. Period. This sort of thing ultimately generates a sort of mediocrity on one hand and outright heresy on the other. We see this in our penchant to promote Doug Phillips and David Barton, the latter, especially, curry favoring to our monolithic vision of everything. This is normal. Richard Hofstadter, a historian, warns us that in a democracy leadership often moves to the mediocre and existential, instead of the confessional. For instance, can you imagine ugly Abraham Lincoln being elected to the presidency today? Ironically, in our pursuit of the sensational, the generalists, people like myself–with the most credentials and education–are often frozen out of the mix. I have rarely been asked to be a keynote because I discipline myself to presenting the facts, not hazy inflammatory conjecture. Facts, let’s face it, bore most people. So . . . what next? We must regain a prophetic, confessional (vs. existential) voice. We must return to squeaky clean excellence in everything we do. Unless the movement can regain this, we might very well sink into the social history cesspool, and be an interesting footnote that historians mention. I repeat: this is a fish or cut bait moment: either we discipline ourselves and stop promoting aberrant “strange fire” speakers or we disappear as a major sociological, culture-changing force in the next few decades.

How to Teach History

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

History is a light that illuminates the present and directs attention toward the possibilities of the future. The history is only the “past” however, without a study and assessment of the written record of events as well as the events themselves. History is a social science–a branch of knowledge that uses specific methods and tools to achieve its goals.

Historians examine archival footprints. Some of these are written records: diaries, letters, oral histories, recordings, inscriptions, biographies, and many others. At times history seems merely to be lists of kings, of wars, and of other significant things. As a result, history seems like a study of a bunch of dead people. Who cares? Like Huck Finn we quip, “After supper the Widow Douglas got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people.”

But history is alive and full of interesting, glorious, and useful things! And it is terribly relevant to all of us.

There are lots of different histories. The Earth, the world of nature, and the universe all have pasts, but they have no histories. Histories have to do with real, alive (or once alive) people. Only human societies have histories, based on collective memories from which they reconstruct their pasts.

Not all attempts to reconstruct the past have resulted in histories. My Uncle George (not a real uncle but just a family friend), Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, had an entirely different view of African History than I, a father of three African-American children. Uncle George had a delusional “history” that was very much like a Nazi propaganda film, but it was not a “history.” It was a “past” made up of venal images, obscured remembrances, and visceral prejudices that stewed in his poor, conflicted mind.

My history was big enough to love Uncle George—and I did—may he rest in peace—and my three children. And in my life, these four people were brought together into eternal rest. Perhaps that is the best thing one can say about this world history. It brings everyone together in one history.

To be a true history, an account of the past must not only retell what happened but must also relate events and people to each other. It must inquire into causes and effects. It must try to discern falsehood in the old records, such as attempts of historical figures to make themselves look better than they really were. It must also present the evidence on which its findings are based.

It is clear that all our information in regard to past events and conditions must be derived from evidence of some kind. Some evidence is better than other evidence.

To that end, I do not expect students to be completely neutral about historical sources. While I know that my students can never be completely neutral about history, scholarly historical inquiry demands that they implement the following principles:

  1. Historians must evaluate the veracity of sources.  There must be a hierarchy of historical sources.  Primary source material, for instance, usually is the best source of information.
  2. Historians must be committed to telling both sides of the historical story. They may choose to lobby for one view over the other, but they must fairly examine all theories.
  3. Historians must avoid stereotypes and archetypes. They must overcome personal prejudices and dispassionately view history in ruthlessly objective terms.
  4. Historians must be committed to the truth no matter where their scholarship leads them. At times historians will discover unflattering information about their nation/state.
  5. Finally, historians understand that real, abiding, and eternal history ultimately is made only by people who obey God at all costs.

After everything is said and done, historians are only studying the past. They cannot really change the past. Theories about the past come and go, and change with each generation. However, the past is past. It is over. Historians will debate about history, but they can never change history. Only God can change history.

God alone can change history. When persons are reborn in Christ, their present, future, and, yes, even their past is changed. History is literarily rewritten. They are new creations. That bad choice, that sin, that catastrophe is placed under the blood of the Lamb, and everything starts fresh and new. A new history for new people.

Let me illustrate. 150 years ago my great-great-great- grandfather, whose passion was to kill Yankees, was a slave owner in Eastern Tennessee. With that inheritance, like most white Southerners who grew up in the 1960s, I grew up to mistrust African-Americans. Like so many people captured by their history and culture, present and future became my past. However, when I was a senior in high school, I was saved. Jesus Christ became my Lord and Savior. My attitudes changed. It took time, but prejudices disappeared.

Ultimately, I married my New Jersey wife, Karen, and we adopted three African-American children—whose ancestors, by the way, may have been owned by my great-great-great-uncle!

Three of my children are African-American. Imagine! Quite literally, my history was rewritten. It has been changed irrevocably by my decision to invite Jesus Christ to be Savior of my life. In a real sense, family prejudice and death existing for generations ended in my generation. The destructive historical cycle that was part of my history has ended. No one, nothing can do that but the Lord. History has been rewritten!

My prayer is that if you do not know this God who can change history—even your history—these history texts might encourage you to invite Jesus Christ into your heart as Savior.