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Tell me a story …

In this post, I will discuss two time-honored methods of passing memories, histories, and stories to others. The first is oral history. The second is written history. Both of these are gifts from God, in my opinion.

Do you remember *Roots, the television mini-series from the late 80’s? And the sequel, Roots: the Next Generations? Alex Haley knows the family stories of how Kunta Kinte, his ancestor, was captured in Africa as a young man trying to get wood to make a drum, and was taken to America where he was made a slave. Alex knows all the family stories since Kunta Kinte, but nothing before him. As Alex searches for the specific link between his family and Africa, he sits for hours in the Gambian village of Juffure listening to a tribal historian, or griot. Extremely fatigued and nearly asleep, Alex finally hears the story of a young man who went to cut wood to make a drum and disappeared. This is the story! It matches exactly! Alex rejoices and cries, “Kunta Kinte, I found you!” I absolutely love this part of the story.

Alex, being a writer, has already recorded the family history and now adds the newly-found African link. Until Alex, most, if not all, of the family history had been oral, passed from parent to child, grandparent to grandchild, elder to younger. Wonderful. And the Gambian tales, painstakingly memorized and rehearsed from generation to generation by the griots were detailed and accurate. Marvelous.

Did you know that many old cultures in the world have an oral tradition of a world-wide flood? Intriguing.

My Mom told me many wonderful stories of her youth. One person who really stood out in her childhood was her Uncle Charlie. He lived at a nearby farm and was well-known as a person who drove much too quickly. Yet, this was before automobiles were common.  You see, Uncle Charlie raced about on his horse wherever he went. The country road which separated the tobacco fields from the farmhouse was hilly and full of ruts. Mom remembers her Uncle galloping his horse which was pulling an old farm wagon along that road when the wagon wheels hit a bump. Uncle Charlie flew backwards into the wagon bed with only his feet sticking up while the horse continued its dash.

Another day, Uncle Charlie was driving past when he saw his brother’s house on fire. The whole family was out visiting, and no one else was around. The dutiful brother dashed to the house, entered, and looked around to see what he could do. He knew there was no phone in the house to call for help. The neighbors were too far away. The fire was spreading rapidly. There were no garden hoses with water pressure like we have today. There wasn’t even running water in this home, just a pump in the yard. There was no one to fill buckets so he could use them to douse the fire. He quickly realized this fire was too big to fight alone. So, Uncle Charlie decided to save some irreplaceable items. Maybe some photos or heirlooms. He frantically darted around. The fire was everywhere. Panic grew. Hurry! Hurry! He made his decision, and rushed from the house. Uncle Charlie had entered the burning home, and had heroically saved an ordinary feather pillow.

Written language has to be one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. Next to language itself, this extension of language, this ability to preserve thoughts and facts, is astounding. Through the ages some scribes have carved symbols into stone, others have etched in wet clay, while others have stained animal hides. The discovery of papyrus and then paper rendered the process of writing much easier. As a result, we have the stories, musings, opinions, and histories of people who lived hundreds and even thousands of years ago.

Unfortunately, it has not always been easy to protect ancient documents. The world has lost much through wars, fires, floods, and the slow decay of time. Even so, much has been preserved. Please see http://carm.org/manuscript-evidence for a very interesting comparison of ancient manuscripts.

My favorite written documents are the 66 Books of the Bible. We have man’s early history, which may have been taken from the oral histories of Adam and Methuselah, which may have been passed on by Noah and Abraham along with their stories. Eventually, it was all probably recorded by Moses, much as Alex Haley did with his family tree in Roots. However this happened, it had to have been orchestrated and inspired by God. The Pentateuch, or Books of Moses, are too harmonious and profound to have been designed by man or to have been an accident.

We also have the writings of prophets and the chronicles of kings. We have the honest despair and triumphant praises of a man after God’s own heart, and the proverbs of the wisest man who ever lived. We have the foretelling and fulfilling of pivotal events; the most important of which are the extremely detailed prophecies and promises of the Messiah, who was to come and suffer for the sins of the world.

The New Testament books include the recorded history of God walking on earth as a man, Jesus Christ (the Messiah); profoundly beautiful letters to believers in Jesus; and a recorded Revelation about the return and coronation of Jesus.

There is nothing else like the Bible in the entire world. To fully appreciate that these are actually God’s musings, opinions, and accounts of history, is to be stunned and awed. What a breathtaking treasure!!!

The following verses are 2,000 years old. Just think about that! wow.

“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

“So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:19-20)

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

*Alex Haley was sued for plagiarism by Harold Courlander, the author of The African. Haley admitted the deed and settled with Courlander. The plagiarism did not include facts in Haley’s family tree.

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Why do we sing?

I have long been intrigued by the etymology or origin of words. And I am fascinated by the process of change made to a word by subsequent generations and their particular cultures.  Over time, a strong meaning may slowly fade into the background, while a newer usage moves to center stage. This is good to keep in mind while enjoying older literature. Archaic or lesser known meanings add new life, color, and nuance to an old text.  This is true with the word, celebrate, which originated in the 15th Century.

According to William Whitaker’s Words, the word, celebrate, comes from the Latin, celebratus; which means to perform, frequent, honor, glorify, publicize, advertise, discuss, or bandy. In short it denotes, to keep in mind. To preserve.  In Dickens, they used to “keep Christmas.” Yet, in current American English usage, the popular meaning of celebrate is to party, revel, enjoy, have fun, and be merry. Do you see the difference?

I believe that celebrating once meant honoring or keeping some person, event, or belief paramount by taking part in a remembrance of some sort. I love this. I miss this. Yes, we ought to celebrate with fun, family, and especially joy. Yet, when the glory and the memory are lost in mere frivolities, the heart is saddened. (Commercialized Christmas is a good example of this.) At least one purpose for a celebration, then, is to insure that something precious is never lost, but is kept fresh, and is passed on to future generations.

So, when most Americans under 40 know very little about American history, or when many Christians understand very little about what Jesus said and what the Bible teaches, concern grows. Are we enthusiastically raising our voices, yet forgetting the reasons we can sing at all?

The Jewish people were given four festivals a year by which to remember God’s goodness to them and His holiness, yet, they kept falling into idol worship.

Jesus had a real problem with some religious people of His day. They kept the kosher laws, the temple etiquette, and even tithed a tenth of their herb gardens. They absolutely loved the best seats in the banquets, and the greetings in the marketplace; they were truly enjoying themselves. Yet, they had forgotten their God’s character. They were exhilarated with the outer observances, but had forgotten the inner reasons.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he reminded them not to use the Lord’s Supper as a time for selfishness and excess.  They were doing the right thing, communion, in the wrong way. Were they having fun? It sure seems like it. Some were getting drunk and feasting. Yet, they weren’t fulfilling the purpose of the celebration: to remember the Lord’s death until He returns.

So, should we lay aside delight and joy to recall God’s merciful kindness with somber faces and gray apparel? Not at all. What an oxymoron that would be! We have been truly blessed! What does a King have that we do not have? We are redeemed and are given many great and precious promises!  We are heirs and joint-heirs with Christ.  Joy and gladness must reign at our celebrations, but the reason for the joy must be the honored guest.

Celebrations are lovely and necessary, refreshing and joyous. Yet, all is empty if the celebrants only remember the glitz and the fun. Most anyone can hold a party. Let’s freely give to our young that which is important in the remembrance. Let’s remind ourselves of history. Let’s rehearse God’s truths and His goodness to us.  This greatly helps us, and also pleases Him.

So, beloved, let us preserve the heart of the matter, as the heart of the matter.

When we remember God’s faithfulness and His promises in a celebration, joy and rejoicing are a natural result. No long, morbid faces or hearts, please. Yet, we do not have fun for fun’s sake. We are advertising, practicing, frequenting, and glorifying precious jewels of memory which are so dear to us, we never want to lose them.

Let us sing, but mostly, let us rejoice in why we do.

Psalm 103:2 “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And  forget none of His benefits;”

“Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,” Isaiah 46:9

“Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD  gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name.” Malachi 3:16

“… and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:24-26

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

“I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder,” 2 Peter 1:13

“So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it,” Revelation 3:3a