“The Good Ol’ Days” (Part 1)

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“Our world is changing,” began the premise of the preacher’s sermon. And the first example he gave to support his premise went something like this:

Back in the good ol’ days I lived in a subdivision where during the summers us boys could stay out all day playing ball, exploring woods, and going to the community pool and our parents never worried about us. Even after dinner us boys could go outside and our parents were not worried that we would not make it back home.  Let me ask you: would any of you let your children today do this?

The assumed response was no one. Why? Because times have become worse and it was safer then in “the good ol’ days” in America than it is today.

I looked around. While the congregation was made up of mostly white middle-class people, there were still a handful of African Americans in the room. My cheeks got red and I felt hot and embarrassed for the preacher.  You see, this preacher had a blind-spot. He spoke of the 1960s as “the good ol’ days” and he made these comments in a historically, racially-charged city of the South. I don’t think I need to tell you that the 60s were NOT “the good ol’ days” for our black brothers and sisters. In fact, a couple miles from the church sat 16th Street Baptist Church, a black congregation that was bombed on Sept. 15, 1963, killing four girls. Those were not “the good ol’ days.” In the 1960s, blacks were denied basic rights and were segregated from the whites. George Wallace, the infamous governor of Alabama in the 1960s, gave a “Segregation Forever” speech, which must have made life even “better” for black Alabamians living in the 60s. Not to mention the 1960s saw the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Probably for most blacks in the south, the world that this preacher described was something they never knew in the 60s. Again, these were not “the good ol’ days” for blacks in America.

But not only were the 60s not “the good ol’ days” for African Americans, but it also wasn’t “the good ol’ days” for anyone in the congregation who grew up in poverty, who got swept up in the Hippie movement and experimented with new drugs for the first time, who served in the Vietnam war (America’s longest war), or women who worked outside the home and had no rights at the workplace.

His blind-spot was an assumption made out of his middle to upper-class, white, male, Southern background and presenting it as true for everyone. What happens when you don’t give hard evidence to support such a strong premise or statement but use tangential evidence is that you don’t have a strongly supported premise and you take the risk of offending someone. Now, I don’t believe this preacher purposely was being insensitive or rude. Rather I believe he is a kind and well-meaning person who would be sad if he offended a brother or sister of any race. But his blind-spot that the 60s were “the good ol’ days” and therefore these days are worse than past days, I believe, was insensitive and potentially offensive.

“The good ol’ days” vs. “I remember the day..”

Scripture gives us plenty of examples and commands to remember – an act that was not cognitive alone but that affected how one lived. In Deuteronomy 8, God tells the people “you shall remember the whole way the LORD your God has led you these forty years… .” The theology of remembrance is tied to obedience, faithfulness and belief in God, while those who forget His past faithfulness are likely to forget God and live accordingly. The Psalms are another example of remembering the past. Psalm 137 begins this way, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” We learn from the New Testament that our faith is based on a past event that has ramifications for the present and future; therefore, we are constantly retelling a story that happened in the past as we believe it has eternal significance! In addition to Scripture, my own experience of losing two grandmothers who I loved very much, showed me that I sometimes long for those days past with them and I recall those past days favorably.

“The good ol’ days” mentality and phraseology, however, is different because it is usually juxtaposed with present day evil. The past becomes idealized as the standard for which we should pattern our present and future. I can’t find examples of this done in Scripture for support for us doing it today. In fact, I often see in Scripture the idea that the best is yet to come (Suffering Servant, new kingdom, supper of the Lamb language/texts.) But many preachers love using this phrase in support of a belief that the world is getting worse, which therefore would mean Christ is coming sooner. And the only reasons I can think of preachers using this phrase is a) to convince people that the world is truly bad; b) to possibly scare people into accepting Jesus; or c) to emphasize present day sufferings and evil as worse than yesteryear. I really can’t come up with a good purpose for using this tactic. Can you? (Tell me in the comments what you think!)

Either way, “the good ol’ days” mentality plays off our human tendency to want to idealize and live in the past. I think this is a tendency of ours because the present is difficult, it is hard. And so we escape in our minds to a place in the past where only the good things existed but not the bad. It’s an alternate reality but it is not a true reality. I don’t know of anyone who has all good days, who goes through a time with no suffering, or who doesn’t complain about how evil the world is. The simple truth is  there are no “good ol’ days” as long as we live in a fallen world, and this mentality that America at some point had “good ol’ days” is false. Was it good for Native Americans when we wiped them out by the thousands? Was it good for blacks when they were our slaves or lived in a world of hate and segregation? Was it good for Japanese living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when we wiped out 100s of thousands with atomic bombs?

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