History Without Grace

Published by 13 Comments

..is knowledge without wisdom, or “why I miss the 1990s..”

In order to be fully understood, most lofty ideals require either a compound sentence or at least a lengthy footnote.  I find myself contending, these days, for two ideas that have come into conflict:  American exceptionalism and American self-examination.  We should be proud of America.  (I don’t really trust anyone who doesn’t love America, or at least the idea of America.)  At the same time, we need to remember that American greatness is based on a goodness born of our ancestors’ willingness to repent in sackcloth and ashes.  We are great because we are self-critical — or at least we used to be.

Around here, we’re about to celebrate American Independence with as many “Yankee Doodle” trappings as possible — muskets, redcoats, Patrick Henry, fife and drum.  We’ll fly the Betsy Ross Flag and the Gadsden Flag and the Fort Moultrie Flag and the Appeal to Heaven Flag.  We will read, out loud, the Declaration of Independence.  We will celebrate the bounty of corn on the cob, watermelon, grilled cheese, relish-adorned hot dogs, and chicken pot pie.  We’ll pick strawberries and olallieberries and maybe a few mulberries.  We’ll drink apple pie milkshakes and hard cider and wine and cold beer.  I’m fairly certain I’ll meet someone who escaped Communism, (we see them every year), and I’ll watch parents proudly introduce their children to distinctly American traditions.

Two years ago, when California had closed down for Covid, I posted video of a fife and drum band marching onto our village green.  I was fighting back tears at the time, because it felt so richly defiant, so sweetly American:  at a time when soul-sick, science-hating public health authorities were demanding cowardice, and isolation, I was surrounded by hundreds of Americans demanding “life, liberty, and the pursuit..”  They weren’t just demanding it.  They were taking it.  Predictably, a few of what the Bible calls “worthless men,” recoiled at the public display, accusing us of hosting super-spreader events, but I wore their scorn like a badge of honor.  Now that double-masked and quadruple-jabbed Anthony Fauci is sick with Covid and new evidence indicates vaccination increases your chances of infection, it all speaks to my original quandary.  It’s not difficult to understand:  American exceptionalism is BUILT on American self-examination.  Our strength is dependent on argument, debate, and virtuous defiance of authority.

Because of that reality, America is bound to question much of its history.  We aren’t angels, and the founders knew that very well.  (John Adams:  “..If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”)  A self-examining society, influenced by Christian charity, will eventually confront issues like slavery, child-labor, female suffrage, and abortion.  But take away, for a moment, the morally difficult chapters of our history — and just ponder everyday household life for a moment.  Picture yourself, during a New Hampshire winter in, say, 1782.  You are battling an episode of fever, diarrhea and food poisoning.  You have the choice of balancing over a chamber pot or spending the evening in a freezing outdoor privy.  When we celebrate the past, we aren’t claiming it was Camelot or Emerald City.  We are celebrating, (or at least I am celebrating), the sturdy resolve of our ancestors to move forward toward that extraordinary “City on a Hill,” despite the perils of nature and man’s depravity.

On the contrary, when you examine the motives of critical race theory and the 1619 Project, it’s a bit like watching someone refuse the feast because the chef hasn’t been morally cross-examined — even though the chef died two centuries ago.   Someone composed an exquisite soufflé, or wrote a symphony, or gave voice to unalienable human rights, or sacrificially died for the soldiers under his command — but they owned a slave.

Deal-breaker.  Destroy the statue.  Burn the book.  Retire the flag and hoist up this year’s rainbow rag.  Take an electron microscope to every century-old assumption that wouldn’t stand scrutiny from the HR manager down the hallway in 2022. Like the murderous Pol Pot, everything has to be “Year Zero.”  Start over and forget your history — even the victories.

In the 1990s, I raised many of my children around living history campfires.  The soldiers and civilians of different eras — represented by contemporary plumbers, and lawyers, and history teachers — hashed out the virtues and the evils of the past in a way that recognized what should be obvious:  you can’t take dead men to court;  you can’t judge them by contemporary cultural and political assumptions.  You praise their vision and lament their blindness.  You sing their songs and learn from their tragedies.  You treat history something like the way you treat your parents and grandparents — with grace, and hopefully a little humility.

They did some marvelous things.  Thank God, and them, for your indoor plumbing. Go turn on your air-conditioner and thank the Good Lord you aren’t speaking German or worshipping the emperor of Japan.

Celebrate America, in other words.  She’s not perfect, but she’s better than any of us deserve.

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This post was written by Jim Riley


  • Brandon Moore says:

    God bless you and God bless America! We love Riley’s Farm and everything you stand for!! ❤️

  • r j says:

    “Yes. And Amen.” (she said with tears in her eyes)

  • Esther Leon says:

    I wish they would print this for all the world to read. I agree with every word. God Bless America and thank you Mr. Riley, for standing up for the truth.

  • Linda Weber says:

    Thanks Jim for sharing your patriotic thoughts about America!

  • Samantha Dalrymple says:

    Love this !

  • Catherine says:

    I enjoyed going to many of Riley’s events over the years, however now that you’ve imbued everything with politics it’s unfortunately taken out the enjoyment of your emails and activities. I know many others who have stopped going to them because of this too. It’s not about any particular partisan stance, it’s more about trying to find some family entertainment without all the political rhetoric and agendas constantly being pushed at every opportunity.

    • Jim Riley says:

      Thanks for being civil. (A lot of my detractors use fake email addresses with embedded obscenities.) I appreciate an honest difference of opinion.

      The farm experience is not political, in the contemporary sense. However, here in on the blog, where we discuss the business of running the farm, the topic is unavoidable. If your favorite little retail book store was being hounded out of existence, for example, by a horde of wokesters demanding anything by Mark Twain and Shakespeare be destroyed, you shouldn’t be surprised if the owner makes a political statement, in defense of both his sanity and his livelihood. If his friends tell him to be quiet about such a threat, they really aren’t his friends.

      • Christi says:

        Politics cannot be separated from life events. If one goes to a place like Riley’s Farm to enjoy the recreation of history, to say it must happen without the intertwining of the current political events is ludicrous. Our founding fathers were very political. It’s less about being political and more about your personal beliefs being stepped on. If the political narrative doesn’t match yours, then one says…we don’t want to be exposed to truth and will stay away. The fact that anyone has a choice is founded in the political and religious freedoms that were fought for by our founding fathers. We should thank God that our forefathers had greater principles and foresight than those who run our country today. Hold onto your hats folks, because God is in the process of retaking our country. The politics of God is founded in righteousness and the sanctity of life. I am grateful there are people in our country and in our commuity that understand that and are willing to remind us of our heritage and our responsibility to continue forth in carrying the torch. Enjoy today’s ability to choose. You could wake up tomorrow and find yourself herded into a concentration camp. Not in America you say? If people don’t wake up and reclaim our political and religious freedoms… yes. In America. If you understood the that America of 1776 was sold into bondage,you’d be out there reminding people of the original Constitution and Bill of Rights,too. Sorry. Life is political. And so is freedom.

  • Kathy Johnson says:

    This is so good! Thank you for sharing your musings. It’s so important that we all continue to seek and share truth in this upside down society we have found ourselves in. We know that God is sovereign, and we are in His loving hands, come what may. I continue to pray for you and Mary, that God will grant justice for you on this side of heaven!

  • Sharon Morton says:

    Perfectly said!

  • Lea Hargis says:

    God bless America and God bless you. I enjoy reading your articles. I find it sits well with my soul and as I examine myself and my motives in a place and time where Pride is celebrated I think of all the times I have had a prideful heart and repented. “Pride goes before a fall” and what I great fall it will be if we don’t repent and turn from our wicked ways. I believe God is on the throne and I chose to do my best each day to make this world a better place not a bitter place. Trying to be better, Lea Hargis

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