Did I mention I sub in an inner city, public high school? That’s relevant because it goes a long way in explaining the TikTok reference in this post’s title. The students in my classrooms often randomly pop up without notice and began performing short dance routines while someone records them on a phone. I have learned that they are recording and posting to TikTok. Now I have never been on TikTok, but every day I have a front row seat to what goes on there.
These videos in the making, which I watch live in the classroom, consist of erratic gyrations that appear to be more random than purposeful while at the same time being so suggestive that I find myself wondering if TikTok has any standards of decency that would determine what is shown and what isn’t. Based on the “dancing” I see in my classrooms, I would guess TikTok has no such standard. TicTok is wildly popular because there are so many people desperate to be noticed, to make a name for themselves, to find fame and fortune, to create an identity and a place for themselves because they feel they have none. Still, I was reminded recently of the timeless nature of dance in all its various forms and of the important role dance plays in culture in every era of human history.
This became very real to me a few days ago when I attended a Yom Kippur service at a local Messianic Jewish church. It was a beautiful service full of music and dancing – meaning and tradition. The dancers, all wearing white, moved silently, gracefully, together as one, as we sang in worship. It felt celestial, sacred, solemn and joyful all at the same time. Among the dancers was an elementary aged young girl, teenage girls, young women, middle aged women and also gray haired older women who obviously knew and loved these dances well, as they had probably been doing them since childhood. Indeed, the movements seemed second nature to the oldest of the dancers, who moved with the grace and fluidity born of familiarity and years of practice. There will come a day when their spaces in the circle will be empty. But new generations of dancers will carry on the tradition, having danced with these older women for so long and learned their ways.
It occurred to me that the scriptures we were reading and the prayers we were reciting have been read and recited down through the years by God’s chosen people. Times have changed, but not God’s word nor His covenant promises and His faithfulness to mankind, whom He created in His image. Traditions like this observance connect the past to the present, bring meaning into the present and help us find our place in an unknown future. Connections to our past are part of our identities in the present. Without a connection to our past, we don’t know who we are or how or where we fit into our present in this world.
These vital connections come in many forms. They remind us of our roots, keeping us grounded so that we can continue to grow. When connections to our roots are severed, we are cut loose, caught in the currents of present culture which carry us away from who we are, who we have been, even as we search frantically for any new identity that will give our lives meaning and purpose. Absent connections or touchstones, we have nothing to remind us where we came from or who we are.
Touchstones, however, are all around us if we don’t discard, discount or ignore them. They can be quite ordinary or extraordinary – they may have great monetary value or none at all. On my kitchen counter sit such touchstone treasures, where I see them every day. The cream and sugar dishes that once set on my Grandma’s kitchen table, now sit on my kitchen counter next to cream and sugar dishes from my Mom’s kitchen and the cream and sugar dishes from my other grandmother’s dining room. These dishes had no special interest or value to me, while my grandmothers and mom were alive. But now that they are gone, these ordinary cream and sugar dishes have taken on a special significance to me as a connection to my past and to those I love.
So it is with the sewing basket. This is the most ordinary, unassuming of items, a small, round, brown wicker container with a lid, that always sat in a special place in my parent’s bedroom. It wasn’t until I went away to college and found it among my things when I unpacked, that I learned its history, its story. My mom had given it to me as the oldest daughter when I left home for college because her mother had given it to her as the oldest daughter when my mom left home for college. Before that, her mom, my grandma, had received this wicker sewing basket from her mom, Orie Olive, (how’s that for a name?) when she left the farm for the big city to attend nursing school. Four generations of daughters leaving home to pursue an education, to pursue a life.
I continued the tradition when my oldest daughter left home to go to college. Although I did change something. The basket had been filled with spools of thread and a pincushion with pins and needles. I filled it with nail polish, lip gloss and such. And so a fifth generation inherits the legacy Orie Olive left to us, encouraging my grandma Julia to become an independent woman in an era when women didn’t typically pursue higher education. And a wicker basket, probably from a dime store (that’s like today’s dollar store) is the symbol of this legacy connecting five generations of women.
History matters. Our personal histories matter. That’s probably why genealogies have become so popular in recent years. People are searching for connections to their pasts. They want to know where they came from, in hopes that this knowledge will aide them in their search for an identity. Individuals experiencing an identity crisis appears to be very commonplace these days. We seem to have forgotten who we are, so we can’t function in the present, nor find our way forward into the future. Without a strong sense of self, where we came from and where we are headed, we are easily manipulated into believing things about ourselves that are not true. Disconnected from our roots, we no longer know who we are.
That’s why history matters. It matters for an individual, it matters for a nation. It’s why we go to museums. We learn so much about our past, the good, the bad and the ugly. There is a Holocaust museum in my state. That definitely contains the bad and the ugly. But it is also a testament to the resilience, strength and faith of the human spirit to endure and persevere through hardship in hopes that good will eventually win out over evil. Hope is essential to the survival of the human spirit. The last words in Anne Frank’s diary are these –
“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are still truly good at heart.” – (August 1, 1944)
Surprising words coming from a teenage girl forced into hiding along with her family because of the cruel persecution of the Gestapo against her and all Jews throughout Europe. To experience such hatred and still believe that good will win out over evil, is a remarkable testament to human hope in the face of unspeakable tragedy. Only three days after writing those words, Anne and her family were discovered and sent to the concentration camps where Anne died. But her words live on. Her father, who survived, published her diary, which became a best-selling book – a work both authentic and inspirational born out of the human tragedy of World War II.
History matters – personal, national and global. My home is full of the artifacts of my personal history. Whether it be pictures, dishes, furniture, a piece of jewelry passed down – my home is a museum of my history, full of touchstones that connect me to my past, to my roots. Connection to my roots sustains my life. Disconnection equals at worst, death – at best, a life spent lost, frantically searching for a new identity.
I watch and wonder if this isn’t what’s happening to my country right now? We are carelessly discarding our touchstones, destroying our monuments, discounting our documents, denying all the good that is part of our past to the exclusion of mistakes, so many of which we have corrected over time. We are desecrating the museum of our nation’s history, which has surrounded us for years in our public spaces, reminding us of who we are, what we have overcome – giving us confidence to face the future, knowing we have overcome evil and wrong in the past. The World War II memorial in Washington DC is especially meaningful to me, because my grandfather fought in World War II.
If we erase our history as a nation, we erase our identity. We will then fall prey to the highest bidder -anyone who promises to “reimagine”, “remake”, “reinvent”, “rewrite” both our past and our future. They will tell us who we are, what we will do and where we are going. We used to call that tyranny, dictatorship or Marxism/communism. Now it masquerades under fancier sounding names, like equity. But the outcomes are the same as they have always been. Only we don’t know this because we have not only done away with our own history, we have rewritten the history of the world as well. Must be why Reagan said, “Freedom is always only one generation away from extinction.” I surely would not want to be that generation through which tyranny enters in and takes over.
But our touchstones are disappearing. We are losing our bearings. Context is so important. Without historical context we cannot make sense of our present, nor plan for our future. How shocked I was when I learned that a statue of Lincoln had been taken down in Portland, Oregon. I remember thinking, do they not know that he was the President who signed the Emancipation Proclamation? Perhaps, they don’t? Ignorance is not bliss. It is chaos and despair. And that is exactly what we will be left with, when our nation’s museum is emptied out of all our monuments and touchstones, our history is erased and rewritten, and we are left rootless, awaiting death because we are no longer connected to all that gave us life and sustained us in the past. We are the nation who was –
“conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” (Gettysburg Address)
Have we forgotten this fact, this truth? Have we forgotten who we are – have we forgotten or forsaken this legacy left to us to guard at all costs? Without our history to remind us, we will forget who we are and who we used to be. We should never allow the museum of our country’s keepsakes to be desecrated and destroyed in the name of what? of justice? If we knew history, we would know that is not justice. But we don’t, we don’t know our history anymore.
Sitting in the Jewish Yom Kippur service this week, I felt completely connected to centuries of history that hasn’t changed over the years. It hasn’t been reimagined or rewritten. Truth doesn’t change. God’s word is truth and Isaiah tells us this,
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
With my identity as a child of God and my history found in His unchanging word, I can stay connected to my roots which sustain me, allowing me to grow and to flourish.
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)
I want the same thing for my beloved country. May her self-inflicted identity crisis come to an end as she returns to her roots. May her rich history and heritage of courage and faith be restored to her. May she remember her birth words –
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness . . .” (Declaration of Independence)
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance.” (Psalm 33:12)
“Let him/us turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him/us, and to our God, for He will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7)
identity in a TikTok world? – found in Jesus Christ – He holds our history in His hands – He knows who we are even when we seem to have forgotten and lost our way . . .
sincerely, Grace Day