Thursday, June 07, 2012

Observations on history, faith and 'real life'

As I'm sure my readers have noticed, I've decided to refresh the look of uperekperissou a bit, with a changed format done and some tinkering with the sidebars planned. More to the point, I'm also anticipating a summer in which I might be able to do rather more blog writing than I've managed in the school year- a low bar, I know. One of the nice things about summer is that the crush of work in the school year abates and I get more time to reflect and, more to the point, read. So, that is what usually generates blog spots.

So, for today, I thought I'd be a bit self-referential and talk about my new subtitle. The alert reader will have already noticed this change and, I hope, approved of it. Living the Tradition, while reflective of my placement inside a dynamic Christian tradition, is rather a clunky and pompous slogan to go by. I mean, who do I think I sound like, a Tractarian or something? So, when I started to contemplate my summer writing, I thought of this subtitle as rather more reflective of what I do here on this blog. However, it does still bear some explaining, if only because those three subjects don't always go together.

For many, I'm sure, it is the history element of this triad that causes the problem. History, in the experience of very many people, is so removed from 'real life' that how could it possibly be related with it, even with faith serving as an intermediary. Of course, historians hasten to justify themselves with everything from vague, but ominous warnings about being doomed to relive the more unpleasant elements of our history or the quest for historical 'truth' or about redefining narratives et cetera. Or, if they're particularly pious, perhaps making observations about the morality of our present age by comparing us with the spiritual giants of the past or the spiritual villains, depending on one's theology and inclination. Yet, none of these justifications ring true with me. What motivates me to continue to study history, particularly Christian history is the inspiration that earlier Christians give me in their efforts to live out their faith in their own time and the salutary dislocation of my own modern (or post-modern, if you like) assumptions about what faith should be, based, no doubt, on my own accommodation with the cultural around me. What Christian history has taught me is that there are many, many different ways of being a Christian- most of which are as faithful and unfaithful as our own time-, so raises the question of whether I believe I have a lock on the truth. History reveals the cloud of witnesses which tell me to stop assuming that I've got this faith thing locked down.

The faith element, on the other hand, should cause no  consternation among Christians, but academically trained historians must now be wincing. Some of that discomfort is probably right. Anyone who has read any ecclesiastical history over the ages knows the piety of some authors has tended to overshadow their historical judgement.. Yet, faith isn't a substitution for using one's brain and, indeed, I would argue that any Christian should be alive to the danger and temptation of perpetrating pious frauds, if they should study history. The impulse to make Christianity look as good as possible is always there as is the impulse to use history polemically against our more vociferous cultural opponents. Yet, I think faith is ill-served when we engage upon any kind of deception (self- or otherwise) about our past. Faith is about trust and, I would argue, it doesn't work if the reasons why we trust are fraudulent.

Besides, my faith is central to how I look at the world and it should surprise no one that I'm going to want to write about it. Really, when push comes to shove and I have to explain why I have faith in God, my answer really has to be that I've found nothing else which give me hope that the evil that I see in the world will not prevail and that this mess that we call human life will be redeemed into something indescribably better. And it is that hope that sustains me in my daily life and pushes me to find a way to contribute to that redemption- through seeking out the dark places in my own soul and through seeking out God's peace in the world where we live.

That brings me to daily life. Ultimately, my faith doesn't allow me to live in a vacuum, but it has to be lived out as I go about my daily routine. I am blessed with work which also is my vocation and, where the rubber hits the road is my daily life. That is where I can see if what I believe comes out in my life or not. Can I live out a faithful life amid the concerns and pressures of my job? Can I trust God even when I really want to control my life and do what I want to do? Do my standards of right really measure up with God's? When I can answer those questions, I'm a lot further on in discerning what I need to do to continue in faith.

So, as I contemplate new posts, I'm hoping to combine these ideas, largely because the best of my posts in the past have done that. I have, as I've discovered, neither the leisure nor the exact skills to be a professional historian. I don't have the sense of detail needed to write history well at the highest level. Nor am I a giant of faith- I'm only trying to apply the little I know about faith and God to my life. However, I find hope and inspiration in finding the connections between the witnesses who preceded me and the witnesses who are before my eyes. If those connections prove helpful to my readers as well, then my task on the blog is done.


Jim said...

OK, in addition to the disconnect between faith and science that the professional secularists who insist all Christians must be fundamentalists, we have to deal with historians assuming we all simply ignore historical accuracy?



Please kill the freaking word verification. It wont stop spam, your blogger filters will and it is murder on those of us, MOI, who have visual issues.

Phil Snider said...

Hi Jim;

Sorry about the word verfication. I hadn't even realized that I had that on after I changed formats. It is off now.

I understand the sigh, although the assumptions that Christian historians just ignore historical accuracy is just one of those post-Enlightenment blindnesses that we run into from time to time. I recall it very clearly in my undergraduate days in the late 80s where even the suggestion that one has to consider religious views to understand periods before the mid-20th century was received by many with incomprehension. Nothing new here, I'm afraid.

Rob Scot said...

Great post. You're spot on about summer being 'the season of blogging'. I just started a new blog myself. As a history teacher, and an amateur student of the history of the church, I really like what you've said about the intersection of history and faith. It's difficult for me to see how anyone with open eyes can fail to see the impact of the past upon our present. But for a Christian, I believe the significance is even greater. Not only have the saints before us had profound effects upon our own assumptions, but the interplay between past generations and ourselves actually continues. "I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints..." That is a communion that is not bound by time (a concept that is not, I think, adequately appreciated by most of our Protestant traditions). The "cloud of witnesses" that surrounds us is made up of our fellow Christians, fellow servants that help us along as we seek to grow into Christ. That is not just a history lesson, that is "real life"!

Phil Snider said...

Hi Rob. Thanks for your comments. I'm glad to see another teacher and another amateur church historian. Welcome!