Lamenting the Past to Heal the Present

 In Featured, Pastor Jeff's Blog

Our parents sinned and are no more, and now we’re paying for the wrongs they did. – Lamentations 5:7

It is human nature to resist pain. We repress negative emotions. We avoid conflict. We medicate discomfort. This is our natural inclination, which is why I found the German attitude toward the Holocaust so extraordinary. Rather than avoid this incredibly painful chapter of their national history, the German people embrace it. They intentionally foster a corporate consciousness around the Holocaust, generation to generation.

The brass plaques in the picture above bear the names of Jews who were forced from their homes and sent to concentration camps. They can be found in the cobbled streets in front of houses throughout the country. They are placed there not just to memorialize the dead, but to remind the living of their own history.

It would be so easy for the German people to dismiss the Holocaust as another generation’s sin, but they have discovered the truth that our broken history can only be healed when we fully embrace it. That is true both individually and corporately.

The Israelites understood that they suffered for the sins of those who lived before them, and they embraced that history and lamented it. It was an important step in their healing and ability to move forward.

Racial tensions have existed in America since its founding, and we continue to resist our broken past, dismissing it as another generation’s sin. But the truth is, our current racial tensions have roots in our broken past. Our treatment of Native Americans as aliens in their own land, our enslavement of blacks, our internment of Japanese Americans – these and many other painful chapters in our national history may never heal until we stop blaming them on another generation or resisting them. Only what is embraced and surrendered to God heals. We cannot move forward until we embrace and lament our past.

In her excellent book Be the Bridge Latasha Morrison put it this way,

Historical truths play an important role in our understanding of how we arrived in our current racial tension. Without looking back, without understanding the truth of our history, it’s difficult to move forward in healthy ways. And even though it might be painful to recount our history as a country, denying it leads us nowhere. Truth is the foundation of awareness, and awareness is the first step in the process of reconciliation. Jesus said as much, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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  • Bill Netvitz

    It begs the question what is “historical truth”? Yours might not be mine. I see a historical truth that our country was founded on the key principles of:
    1) God given rights. (Not government granted) This was a fundamental change from the thinking of the time.
    2) That people as they are created, are equal.
    3) That individuals have agency. (Life and Liberty)
    4) That happiness must be pursued, it cannot be given. It cannot be guaranteed.

    While we have imperfectly adhered to these truths, they have guided us to improve. The result has been that these truths have broken more chains across the world than any other philosophy.

    History must also take into context the time period in which it happened. Judging history based on our current standards is not productive or factual.

    As to recent events. My history is the following (yours might be different)
    1) A man who was high on drugs attempted to steal from a local business by passing counterfeit money.
    2) That business followed procedure and took the money, but called the police.
    3) When the police arrived to investigate, they found the man still at the location.
    4) They attempted to detain him, but he (non-violently) resisted.
    5) After a long period of time tussling with the man the police put him in their squad car.
    6) Against police orders he came out and was acting high.
    7) One police officer put the man in a legal (at that time) hold meant to subdue him.
    8) The man perished while in custody during this period.

    I don’t know if the drugs killed him or the action that the police officer made killed him or something else. Neither do you.

    What I do know is that the man had agency that day. He chose to get high, he chose to steal.
    These things set in motion the series of events that led to his death more than anything else.
    He chose to resist (possibly because he was high).
    Had the man made any other choice for even one of these things, his history would be different.

    To blame this on race is beyond silly.

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