History Lesson

History Lesson

by Dale Reeves
Story Pastor

This past week my wife Karen and I got to enjoy a week spent traveling down the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway (most of the 469 miles of it!)—AFTER traversing through 105 miles on the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park. For most of the winding, curvy, mountaintop roads the speed limit is 35 mph. Now, you know why it took us a week to make it through the states of Virginia and North Carolina. I lost count of how many beautiful vistas we enjoyed at the myriad of overlooks we stopped at or passed by.

We began our trip in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the infamous site where anti-slavery abolitionist John Brown attempted to capture muskets from a federal armory and rally slaves to his cause, thus sparking a rebellion. It’s a very interesting place to visit as you see where John and his band of eighteen men attempted their coup right where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet at a railroad and footbridge. Eventually Colonel Robert E. Lee, of the U.S. Army, led the troops that captured John, and he was hanged for his crimes. John Brown’s willingness to die for his beliefs made him a martyr in the struggle against slavery.

By the time the Civil War began in 1861, the John Brown version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” had spread through the Union army as a rallying cry:

John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave, John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave, John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on.

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah; Glory, Glory, Hallelujah; Glory, Glory, Hallelujah, his soul goes marching on.

He captured Harper’s Ferry with his nineteen men so true; he frightened old Virginia till she trembled through and through; they hung him for a traitor, they themselves the traitor crew, but his soul goes marching on.”

History Speaks
It seemed fitting to then drive just under an hour to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania where three days of historic fighting took place on the battlefield there. We took a bus tour (yes, we wore masks and socially distanced—as much as I am capable of), as we listened to our very knowledgeable guide Jack, who was proficient in all things Civil War, as well as many other interesting details in American history. At the Virginia memorial at Gettysburg, which features confederate General Robert E. Lee riding his trusty steed, Traveler, Jack told us what happened this past July 4 during a season when many statues in Virginia were being torn down. A number of folks showed up with arms in hand making sure no group of people were going to attempt to desecrate the statue. Back on the bus, our guide shared how much he enjoys tour groups composed of eighth-grade and ninth-grade students because he feels many of them have not learned many things in American history that he feels are important.

Also included in our itinerary this trip was a visit to Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the palatial mountaintop plantation of the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. As we left the parking lot and headed toward the visitor center, an hour ahead of our scheduled shuttle to Thomas Jefferson’s home, we met a nice college kid by the name of Andrew, who was in his senior year at the University of Virginia. He is a history major studying American history and religious studies, and as he said, “This is the perfect fit for me as a job right now.” We thoroughly enjoyed walking through the museum, touring Jefferson’s home, marveling at his well-preserved books behind glass cases, his vegetable gardens, the grounds, and appreciating all the unique things he built into this engineering spectacle. When you realize that he wrote the Declaration of Independence at the young age of thirty-three, you cannot help but take notice of just how learned a man he was.

Even though Jefferson was brilliant, the tour guides and museum make no bones about his “contradictory flaw.” The man who penned the words, “that all men are created equal” also owned over the course of his life approximately 600 slaves, usually about 130 or so at a time at Monticello. It is also a well-known fact that after the death of Jefferson’s wife Martha, Jefferson fathered at least six children with one of the enslaved women at Monticello, Sally Hemings. Sally had her own exhibit at Monticello, as well as lecture on the grounds, and even though several of her children were eventually set free, Sally never was.

Lessons from a Simpler Time
As we passed through these sites and even took a short side trip to Mt. Airy, North Carolina, the boyhood home of Andy Griffith, we saw many signs that stated, “Historic site.” All of this begs the question: Should we spend time canceling culture, eradicating statues that represent various periods of our American history, or should we learn from history? To quote our brilliant guide Jack from Gettysburg, “Aren’t we fortunate that they documented these details for us? There are many military groups that have come here to learn from what happened here, to study strategy. And, we need to all learn from history.”

The year 2020 marks the 60th anniversary of the The Andy Griffith Show. I’ve always wanted to visit this spot celebrating all things Andy Griffith, and after the craziness we have all experienced this year, a visit here was definitely something the doctor ordered. I needed to experience for even a few hours one morning a throwback in time, when things were simpler, less complex, and as lawman, justice of the peace, and all-around-good-guy, Sheriff Andy Taylor would ask, “Can’t we all just get along?”

After six decades, The Andy Griffith Show continues to stand out as one of the most outstanding and most beloved television shows of all time. Mount Airy’s favorite son and the characters who joined him in creating the fictional town of Mayberry have given generations of fans something to enjoy, treasure, and even use to escape the real world. What was it about the show that endeared so many folks? I propose it was things like the love of friends and family, basic pleasures of life such as drinking a bottle of pop at Wally’s Service Station, and abiding by the Golden Rule—“Do to others what you would have them do to you.”

Learning from the Past
What would happen if we spent less time tearing down others and more time strolling to a fishin’ hole with family members while whistling a famous tune? I think we would all be a little nicer to each other, less divisive, and perhaps more willing to try to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. We might be more willing to learn from our past and the past of others with whom we come in contact.

God’s Word says, Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you” (Deuteronomy 32:7, ESV).

We’ve come a long way since the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg, and Mayberry, haven’t we? Have we learned the lessons we are supposed to? Writer and philosopher George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Later, British prime minister Winston Churchill tweaked this quote slightly when he said to the House of Commons,

“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

This year is definitely one we will all remember for a long time. Our parents, our children, and our grandchildren will have many vivid memories of this year. Have we learned what we needed to learn this year? Have we learned anything from history that we must never forget? Where are the John Browns today who are willing to lay their lives down for a cause they desperately believe in?

Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NIV). What Jesus did for us is the greatest lesson any of us can ever learn. I don’t plan on ever forgetting it.

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