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  • Writer's pictureJoe Cherry

Holding History

When we were young, history was taught to us as a fait accompli, a thing that has already happened. It was and was being shared with us from a textbook, printed by the hundreds of thousands and carried by us daily to and from our lockers at school. It could be poorly taught as a series of dates and battles, with statistics about how many people died, how many ships were lost, and what territory was gained, if temporarily, by which side. Though I’m an avid and lifelong avocational historian, I never cared much for military histories.

But history is literally the story of people; the word story is right there in it! It’s a soap opera drama, but without the organized chaos of a room full of writers. There’s no agreed upon story line that happens over months and years.

Our lives unfold, and anyone who has lived long enough to gain a little wisdom can tell you that our stories don’t always follow our will. It's the responses to life not following our will that makes the story so rich and fascinating.

While I have certainly lived in places where Europeans lived longer than 400 years, having moved to Massachusetts this year, and 400 being a nice, round number, I am keen to learn the history of this place where I now live, the ground on which I walk in the mornings.

I’m also keen to learn the history of this congregation, which begins in 1959. I want to know more than the names of the ministers, I want to know the story of the people who gather in this fellowship. If you want to tell me what you know about our history, let me know, I’ll gladly make us some tea for a conversation!

Knowing the names of the ministers was the old way of learning history. It was decided who were the important men in the story, and those were the names we learned. We might, were we lucky, even read some of the very words they composed as they did whatever great feat it was they did.

But history is far more nuanced than that. History is about relationships between entities. Between people, between people and the land, between the land and time itself. Our understanding of history is wider and more complex, and is being revealed more every day.

I recently heard this phrase, and I can’t credit the author I’m sorry to say. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” What can we learn about our individual and collective histories that can help us to create a poem of beauty rather than repeated mistakes?

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Rev. Joe Cherry

Rev. Joe is a biracial, gay, Unitarian Universalist minister, and history nerd. He lives in North Easton, Massachusetts, with his husband, Rev. Denis Paul, and their dog, Toulouse.

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