The opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham was a big ‘event spectacular’. As someone with an interest in puppetry – you might want to ask Charlotte why there was 2 metre high puppet hanging in the hallway of our first apartment after we married! – I was particularly impressed by the raging bull. The technology aside, what struck me though was a sense – and the gift of imagination and identification are some of the gifts puppetry give to us – of both the success and hardship of the past – the wealth and the poverty of the Industrial Revolution – the haves and the have-nots of society – and I was impressed that in the stories of the past we are increasingly talking about and aware of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’.
I grew up with a saccharine view of history – my side were the ‘goodies’ who didn’t do anything wrong and if there were wars or troubles those against my side were the ‘enemy’. I didn’t learn the truth of indigenous Australians until way way past my school days. This also meant that I didn’t appreciate how my today and how indigenous Australians’ today were shaped by our pasts. I have learnt more about the structural histories and the legacies of the past and how they privilege some and not others. And it begs the question about our personal and family and social history and where personal responsibility lies in making this world better for others. Christians don’t usually talk like this but serving our neighbour – which is what we are used to hearing – can be both individual and personal and communal and structural. But it begins by recognising there is a problem and a desire to help.
We cannot change our family tree but we can learn from it. We cannot change our country’s history but we can learn from it. We cannot change our own past behaviour but we can learn from it. This is particularly so when we recognise that there has been wrong done – or good not done – and others have suffered. I am not a fan of the idea of ‘cancelling’ history with regards to statues or legacies and the like just as I am not a fan of telling half of history – from the ‘winners’ point of view’ – but I am a fan of the truth and learning from it – and saying so or doing so today. Maybe that is with more statues or signs next to past statues or spectacular events showing both privilege and exploitation – which, for me, leads to the goal of learning about how I, in my small corner of the world, can contribute to making both the people around me – the ones I can see – and the society around me – the big anonymous mass – live well.
As Christians, our personal lifestyle, our relationship with Jesus is marked by repentance – daily repentance – because our own personal daily history is a mixture of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ but on a foundation of God’s grace as we imagine the cross and baptismal font. This daily routine of knowing we’re loved by God and wanting to make our life – and the lives of those around us – better gives us the best perspective to look for the truth in all history and for where Jesus might want us to serve tomorrow.