The other night I had a conversation about denominations. Some people were discussing the way they grew up understanding denominations. For example,the Baptists grew up thinking the Catholics weren’t really Christians and the Methodists barely were. Some Catholics probably grew up thinking that Protestants were all some watered down version of the real thing. The funny thing is that most people couldn’t tell you why these things were true. They could give you a vague notion and maybe something the other believed incorrectly about communion or baptism. For the most part, it’s just the way things are.
I went to a Baptist seminary, but I did not grow up Baptist. Thanks to the likes of David Bebbington, I now know more than most Baptists do about their own history. Many of these conflicts and controversies have historical roots. People had real disagreements over matters they thought were of utmost importance. Over the years, we have detached these disagreements from their context so much that in the end they no longer make much sense.
This is how we deal with a lot of the world we live in, ahistorically. We approach global economic problems and regional conflicts as if they just started yesterday and can therefore be solved by our new-fangled innovations on the old sticks and carrots.
The way that we disconnect denominations and other things from their historical context is like our relationship with produce from the grocery store. We walk into the store with bright lights and flashy signs. We witness the sea of produce in perfect bright colors coming at us. There are no seasons in the grocery store, only sales (usually on seasonal produce, but you’d have to know that first to figure it out). Even though the current law requires produce to be labelled with its country of origin, you wouldn’t know where anything came from unless you wanted to read the fine print.
This is a different kind of food desert. This is a desert of now, a desert without a name or story or ancestors. The food in this desert is a never-ending ocean of unblemished ripeness, as if it were injection molded plastic. This food did not come from the earth. It came from a truck. Everything tells us it will always be there when we want it, because it is not really part of our story.
This is the lie that grocery stores and our lack of historical context perpetuate, that those things are not part of our story. Catholics are not part of our story, they just believe the wrong things. We are not historically related to them in any way. Those Lutherans just do things funny and we can’t explain it. That asparagus magically appears at the store in December with no questions asked. We pick it up to make dinner for our friends coming over and it is a prop. It does not belong to our story because it has no meaning to us.
Well, I believe with all my heart that both asparagus and history should mean something. It’s about our relationships to each other and to the earth… and that’s all it’s ever been about.