Why The Good Old Days Never Were

Why The Good Old Days Never Were

1919 1439 Brian Niece

Sometimes I catch myself thinking about my own good old days. Maybe you, too? I look back to a previous season in life and get all the feels. I romanticize what was and think, “If I only I could go back.” But were those really the good old days? Has my memory sanitized and glorified what was?

Have any of us had a grandparent that trekked 10 miles to school, both ways, in the snow? And they liked it! Who needed progress back then, in those “good old days?”

Different Types of Nostalgia

Isn’t nostalgia a good thing, in a “warm fuzzies” way? That depends on the type of nostalgia, and how we honestly face it.

Some social scientists have begun to classify nostalgia into three types: personal, historical, and collective.

Personal nostalgia is that of the individual wistfully looking back to a previous time, usually stripping anything negative from the memory. Historical nostalgia is when we sanitize history and think something was better in a previous time because of it. Collective nostalgia comes from a commonality in any particular group that remembers a previous iteration of the group fondly.

On a societal or cultural level, we do this a lot. We look back to a time when society was better, in our estimation. We look to make the here-and-now like it was then, because — the story goes — it was great then, it was right then, it was good then, it was pure then. But was it really?

In a recent survey, apparently half of Americans want the country to revert back to the way it was in the 1950s. Hmmm, let’s see. Around the time Eisenhower was president, civil rights and liberties of many disenfranchised groups were either greatly limited or non-existent. Sure, white Christian Americans seemed to have a good bit of security and political clout. But there was the threat of more world wars on the horizon, we were a very segregated people, and, oh yeah, there were no iPhones.

Just think about that last seemingly trivial fact for a moment. Do you really — I mean really — want to go back to a time before iPhones or cellular technology of any time?

On a religious level, certain institutional leanings look back to the “early church” and extol the faithful to be more like the followers were then. But, do we really want to be a persecuted and occupied sub-set of society? Who knows, there actually may be something more simple in that.

The Curse of Fear

Often, recalling the good old days is a reaction to some current trauma, or displacement, or uneasiness about the individual’s or society’s context.

And this disquiet arises out of something very simple, yet very powerful: fear. Like a skittish rabbit who sniffs danger in the air and shuffles quickly into its burrow, we tend to operate out of a palpable fear and the near-instant actions that stem from it.

I get it. Fear can make us temporarily lose touch with our reasoning faculties. Fear can make some perceived threat seem much more ominous than it is.

But as someone who follows Jesus, I’m struck by the number of recorded times he told his followers, “Don’t be afraid!” In fact, it’s the phrase he’s chronicled as saying more often than anything else.

Let that sink in.

Part of this is because Jesus, who was likely the most authentic human to ever live, knew the very real and dangerous presence of fear. And part of it is because, for one who understands the love of the God that Jesus called Father, there is no place for fear.

When we let our fears give way to nostalgia, that’s one thing. When we nurture that nostalgia to the point where we are unable to be fully alive in the present because of our incessant desire to revert to a past time, that’s something else entirely. Such a posture is the breeding ground of evils such as racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism, war-mongering, and much more.

All Things New

The narrative that gives perspective to my life is one of constant renewal and change. It is a story of taking what is and reshaping it into something that has not yet been.

This is not a narrative of reversion and retrenchment. This is not a story of taking what is and making it what was.

To have the audacious belief in something like resurrection means simply this: we are moving ever closer to something brand new.

That means we should never attempt to hold onto anything. The march toward newness means that old things pass away. Sure some wonderful things like goodness, truth, and beauty will always be. But I’d bet these things will look different and new in the days ahead.

I guess we can call some former time “the good old days.” But in that phrase we should not mean, “I wish everything now was like it was then.” Such a sentiment is a denial of things like resurrection.

Maybe we could begin to long for the days in the future when all things will be new.

 

Brian Niece

Brian Niece is a former pastor, who was a former actor, now navigating the fringes of all things institutional. He is a speaker and author communicating to and for outsiders and outliers. He hosts the Reimagining Podcast about rethinking ourselves, our culture, our faith … maybe everything. Find out more at www.brianniece.com.

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4 Comments
  • Brian, Great article! It made me think of the scripture from Philippians 3:13-14, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,[a] but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

    • Thanks, Beckie. Indeed, we must hold something of a balance among past, present, future; without rushing to the extreme of any one.

  • Mary Langer Thompson November 4, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    “But as someone who follows Jesus, I’m struck by the number of recorded times he told his followers, “Don’t be afraid!” In fact, it’s the phrase he’s chronicled as saying more often than anything else.”

    “Let that sink in.”

    Your writing helps that sink in. Great essay.

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