Read up on what happened before you were born;
dig into the past, understand your roots.
Ask your parents what it was like before you were born;
ask the old-ones, they’ll tell you a thing or two. Deuteronomy 32:7 (MSG)
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting a small group of historians at the Van Raalte Institute in Holland, Michigan. These distinguished academics have dedicated themselves to researching and preserving the history of the Dutch in America. It was one of their books, Iowa Letters, that provided the source material for a play I wrote a few years back and I wanted to express my gratitude. It was a very pleasant visit. I even learned a thing or two.
I love history on both a large and small scale. History on the larger scale has given me a better understanding of human nature and taught me valuable lessons with which I’ve been able to make better life decisions. As it is said, those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it (usually to tragic ends). On a smaller scale, researching and learning about my family, my family’s history, as well as my ethnic heritage has had an even greater impact.
In researching my family and my heritage I have gained a greater perspective of who I am. It has afforded me the opportunity to see myself in a larger context of the community and family system that helped form me. It has helped me understand the community in which I live. This, in turn, has given me insight into both the cultural, familial strengths I want to exercise as well as the generational sins I wish to address and to avoid.
God consistently tells us in His Message to look back and remember. In looking back, digging into the past, and understanding our roots we gain context in which we better understand ourselves. We are also reminded of God’s faithfulness throughout the generations, encouraging us to trust that faithfulness in our own.