Reading History

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.    Philippians 4:8

This past weekend saw any number of articles about how warped the Fourth of July celebration is, how screwed up the Founding Fathers were, and how flawed the Declaration of Independence is.  There’s a mistake that most of these criticisms have in common; not recognizing context.

But let me first point you back to my 7/4 article, The Miracle of America.  It is based on an article by the same title, which was linked in the post.  Yes, America is a miracle, but it also has its sordid, ugly sides.  I will not make any excuses for past bad behavior, but I want you to think about this…

One of the first things to understand about studying history is to look at it through its own time.  If you truly wish to understand what happened or was written at a certain point in time, your first job is to look at it in the context of its time!  Anything else is just trying to argue against something before you fully understand it.

Have you ever conversed with someone who only listened to argue?  Maybe you’ve done it yourself.  That person constantly interrupts by playing a game of “gotcha” with almost every syllable you utter.  You never have a chance to completely paint the picture of whatever it is that you advocate.  Nothing of substance never happens in such conversations.  All that matters at the end is who scored the most and biggest points.  Truth becomes a casualty.

That’s what everyone was doing this year.  Without belaboring all the criticisms and dirty laundry of America, please allow me to give you what we can truly take from our Founding Founders, the Declaration, and the birth of our country.

I will not excuse the hypocrisy of “All men are created equal” when laid next to slavery.  It can’t be done.  But here’s what we can understand.  The Founding Fathers were men of their time.  Slavery was a fait accompli before they were born.  They were “in the chute” of history without even knowing it, riding that slide to its conclusion.

Slavery was not right, but for them it was normal.  It’s like a dog who has been chained to a stake in the ground its whole life.  It knows nothing else.

Of course, there were those Founders who didn’t like slavery and were becoming enlightened.  Still, they were unable to discover a way around it as they wrestled with the idea of independence from Britain.  It was a tough nut to crack, as the massively destructive Civil War was to prove.

Thomas Jefferson

What, then, did they do?  They wrote a Declaration of Independence that sounded all the right notes, even if the Founders themselves were unable to play them all in their time.  They were flawed men aspiring to bring about something great, even if at least some of them knew further greatness would be beyond their lifetimes.

But it was a start!

And let’s remember this – we are all flawed!  We all, even in our best efforts, miss things and produce flawed results.  I’ve been in leadership roles and been close to top corporate leadership in corporate planning meetings, and I can tell you that leading and governing invariably draw criticisms and attacks.  We must thank God who has blessed us with leaders in every capacity who have the vision and courage to forge a trail.

No one in our current time as had the need to summon enough courage to start a completely new country based on principles no one has ever use.  How dare we denigrate the Founding Fathers for laying a foundation that produced a world leader!

If someone wants to critique their efforts in founding a brand-new country, let’s lead with what they got right.  Let’s lead with what the long-term results are.  Let’s write articles with headlines that call attention to what got done right instead of vilifying our country and its foundations.

One doesn’t heal a wound by picking at the scab and constantly reopening old scars.  Healing comes from nurturing the healthy parts of the body that contribute to healing the damaged parts.  In dealing with our mixed history, let’s cling to the foundations which grew a country that, more than any other, people clamor to enter.  Let’s continue to grow the good of America, which people risk death to arrive at.  Let’s prune away the damaged parts and heal those pruning scars.

We must put aside past hurts, however foul, and proceed together in unity.  We must always focus on the good even as we address the bad.  That is true for people, and what is a country but a large group of people?

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