“Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens…”
For those of you as obsessed with musicals and/or Julie Andrews as I am, you know to what that abbreviated quote refers. The Sound of Music, which has touched the hearts of many for over fifty years, introduces the song, “My Favorite Things,” with those seven words. I have often tried to create my own list of favorite things and immediately think of friends and family or beautiful natural settings. But do you want to know what my favorite thing is not?
I know. I cannot possibly write that as a history major, right? Don’t we study what we love in college? Won’t some fine print show up on my diploma that says I must maintain a constant obsession with historical facts and knowledge? Don’t I have to constantly read the latest history publication with a critical eye, identifying methodological strengths and weaknesses? Don’t I have to be madly in love with all things history?
In all honesty, I think I have a pretty solid love-hate relationship with history. I could not exemplify this relationship better than by narrating some research stories. I am currently finishing research for my Senior Honors Project on American Christian Zionism, and some joyful responses to research finds actually have me a bit worried. After several hours of digging in decades-old issues of Christianity Today magazines, I burst into tears in front of my friends and a few dozen others because I found the March 9, 1992 issue devoted entirely to American Christian Zionism. On the other hand, those days in the library become more brutal with each passing seemingly-fruitless hour.
The question naturally follows: why a history major?
Maybe this introduction warrants more biographical information. History is my second and secondary major in addition to Christian Ministries. Pastoral ministry has developed a strong presence in my future plans – I’m already deep in my search for the right seminary. However, history has always intrigued me. My high school history teacher, whom I had for four history classes, evoked that love out of me and helped steer it toward American religious history. I find myself fascinated by questions of religion’s role in a culture and religion’s meaning to individuals and communities. Call it ambition or – more pejoratively – overachieving, but a history major seemed like a noble sub-quest on the larger mission of undergraduate education.
To continue my relationship motif, I assumed my love for history meant our interactions would prove easy, joyful, and always pleasant. Like a young man falling head over heels in love with the girl of his dreams (or vice versa), I thought history and I could do no wrong. But like any of you with long-term relationship experience know, the road of love is not always easily traversed. I have found myself frustrated with history at times, given its nature to narrate the most unpalatable of stories and present issues, dilemmas, and ambiguities. I cannot help but believe history has had its share of frustration with my laziness and indifference at times. At the risk of taking this metaphor too far, history and I have come far too close to the brink of separation on multiple occasions.
I know I’m avoiding the question. Why a history major? History has value far more intrinsic than mere recitation of historical facts or maintenance of historical sites and artifacts. History opens up past stories of events, places, and, most importantly, people. History closes the door on pride, forcing the reader to enter into another story with humility and listening ears to understand. History exits complex current conflicts and seeks to understand these events’ historical causes. And ultimately, history enters us, forming and shaping us into better members of the human family that try to see the biggest picture and the smallest detail for what they are worth.
Why a history major? As a future minister, history could not inform Christian faith and ministry more. How can we understand where we go if we do not understand from where we come? How can we faithfully understand the biblical narrative without at least a basic awareness of the cultures out of which the texts came? Serving others requires understanding systems and processes, how they are established and maintained, learning about what worked and what failed, and then moving forward with a decision. A “history-minded” person has a tremendous advantage in these situations, for they are accustomed to listening and grasping context and implications before advancing. As a Christian, I have a calling to value each individual – what better arena in which to practice that calling than the past? Christianity, and religion in general, informs so many decisions with historical weight, and my two majors go hand in hand at times when Christians move to significant social action in such cataclysmic events as the Civil Rights Movement.
Why a history major? Why pursue something that causes me so much frustration at times? History is worth it. The joyful moments are worth it. And – as yet another relationship cliché goes – nothing worth doing is ever easy.
Jonathan Fuller is a junior Christian ministries and history double major. He serves as Student Body Chaplain on the Student Chaplain Team and work study and research assistant to the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies chair.