November 2016

The Past is a Foreign Country


The first days of November are coloured by the theme of remembrance. November 1st is All Saints Day when we remember the thousands of ordinary men and women who, through their faith in God, did extraordinary things. November 2nd is All Souls Day when we remember all those who have got before us, especially those we love. November 5th we remember the Gunpowder plot: what we probably don’t remember is the fact that the way we celebrate it is part of our rather unattractive anti-Roman Catholic heritage. Then on November 11th we remember all those who have fallen in war.


And it is absolutely right and proper that we should remember. Provided that our reasons for doing so are positive. Let me explain.


I believe very strongly in the importance of history as a subject and a study. If you don’t know your past, then you can’t understand your present. And if you don’t understand your present, you cannot plan for your future. And if you want a simple and devastating example of what happens if you make decisions based on complete ignorance of the past, then just have a look at the west’s involvement in the Middle East.So with us, we need to be aware of our past - national. local and individual, in order to understand why we are as we are, but that is only part of the way. For the present does not stay as it is, and we need to move from where we are to where we want to be.


What is really important is that we plan for the future, and we can’t do that if we are stuck in the past, especially if that past is a  totally imaginary or self-indulgent one. Nostalgia, in its origins, means an aching for one’s home. But you can never go back to where you were: life has changed, and we must change with it. To try to preserve the past is impossible and to try to live in the past - especially by maintaining pointless feuds and animosities is, in so many ways, utterly destructive. So, as we spend the early days of November looking back, we must spend it also looking forward. As we celebrate All Saints Day, we remember that we are all as ordinary as the saints, and must ask ourselves how we can, in our own modest ways, change the world as they did. As we commemorate All Souls Day, we don’t just remember those close to us who have died, but we ask ourselves how we can build on their achievements. As we indulge in bonfire night, we remind ourselves how murderous conflicts between religions are, and commit ourselves to work together with those from other denominations and other faiths, and it strikes me as being.nonsensical to observe Remembrance Sunday unless we are determined in our ways to work for peace in the world, in our communities, in our families and in ourselves.


Christian life has always been about moving forward together. To do that, we need a starting point and a goal. That goal is in the future., not in the past. 

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