In my Church History class tonight I made the point that history is not about dates and facts – it’s about stories. Historical figures have a story. Their lives have background, full of experiences, passions, and flaws. History, above all else, attempts to answer the question, “Why?”
Here’s what I mean. I want to tell you about Tom and Sally – poor people just fighting for their very existence. Sally was an illegitimate child, born to a mother who was having an affair with a married man who threw her out. Eventually the child is born, and because of the mother’s reputation the child (Sally) is a pariah. And so history repeats itself. Sally falls in love with a man whose sister is the town prostitute – she wants to marry this man, but he doesn’t want anything to do with her. Now, along comes Tom – a pathetic guy. A real loser – as mean as a rabid dog. He was in love with a girl named Sarah. He asked Sarah, “Will you marry me?” And she said, “absolutely not, LOSER!” Tom then goes to the first woman he can find and marries her – it’s Sally. Eight months later (you do the math) a girl is born, and Tom insists that they name the little girl Sarah – after the woman he’s really in love with. Tom then gets it into his head that they have to move, and he wants to build their own house. But remember, Tom’s a lazy bum, so he only manages to put up three walls. So this poor family is now living in this crazy three-walled house with the rain and the snow coming in. Tom never finished the house. And then Sally gets pregnant again, and she gives birth to a boy and names the boy after the first loser she was in love with. Now Tom, who thought the boy wasn’t really his, wasn’t really friendly to this little boy. He worked the kid. I mean this was a battered kid. He worked the kid all day, he starved the kid, he whipped the poor boy. He was terrified of his father. Nothing he did was good enough for Tom. Sally, however, really loved her boy and told him, “The way out is through education.” So she taught him to read. The father disagreed. He said, “You gotta go out and work you worthless kid.” When the boy was 9, Sally died. What does Tom do? He just leaves – gone for a year. When people finally stumble on this crazy three-walled shack in the middle of nowhere the 2 kids are so emaciated, they’re just skin and bones – they had been foraging in the bushes for food! And then dad comes home – with a new wife – Sarah – the woman he always wanted to marry! And the beatings start all over again – the work and the beatings go on and on. The father slaps the kid in public, he humiliates him, and he goes on working him to the bone. Eventually, when the kid is 22, he leaves home to live in another town with nothing. He was emaciated, beaten, dirty, he was so poor he had no buttons on his shirt – he used thorns for buttons! He wandered into this town during a parade looking like a freak! But it wasn’t long until people were so impressed with how smart this kid was that they gave him a home and sent him to school. By the way, this guy never disciplined his own kids – they were wild. They would go into the office of their father’s business partner and just ransack the place, and they were never talked to or disciplined – he became the opposite of his father Tom. His wife made him name their own son after his father, Tom, which is why he never called his own son by his given name – he always used a nickname. He refused to say the name of his father. Years later, when he was famous, and people asked him why he was doing what he was doing, he said, “Because I relate. I know how bad slavery can be because of how my father – Thomas Lincoln treated me.”
You see, it is almost meaningless to memorize the Gettysburg Address or know that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation proclamation on January 1st 1863 if you do not know why, if you don’t know the personal background. I love history, don't you?