This past weekend we were in Nauvoo, Illinois, attending an informal history discussion of “untold stories.” For those of you who don’t know, Nauvoo is a city with strong ties to all Restoration movements (Community of Christ, Mormon, Strangites, Cutlerites, and many, many others). It was the last place that was a hoped-for “perfect” community before Joseph Smith was murdered, and the church began splitting into many different directions.
While many of the stories this weekend dealt with parts of that tradition, many others did not…but were focused on Nauvoo before or after the time the Mormons were its primary citizens. And there were many interesting stories (including stories of two priests who were significant in the development of Chicago and Detroit who began their ministry around Nauvoo…and Nauvoo’s reputation as the Napa Valley of the area prior to Prohibition–I had no idea there had been over 400,000 grape vines and numerous wineries there)!
At the same time, I was reading James McBride’s book The Color of Water–the story of his life interspersed with his mother’s, which she had not talked about prior to that time. She always called herself a “light-skinned” woman, and when her children (twelve of them!) asked questions about her family, she either ignored them or evaded them with brief non-answers. When McBride finally discovered that she was in fact the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi from Poland, he had to rethink much of what he thought he knew about his mother.
It got me to wondering just how many untold stories there are in our own families and faith traditions. What do we not know? and how would our beliefs and perceptions change if we did know them?
As we were coming back home, we came across Iowa on the auto route of the Mormon trail–the route families followed when they were driven out of Nauvoo…at about this time of year. I had known about it, at least intellectually. It wasn’t an event that directly impacted my family. But as we drove across that area, seeing the snow covering the ground…seeing the distance (still) between homes and recognizing that most of the small towns we passed through were not there then…and feeling the bone-chilling cold…I began to wonder how many untold stories there were from that experience.
History has traditionally been written by the victors in any conflict–and by male writers. What stories are we missing from women’s perspectives? How would our understanding of experiences change if we had their viewpoints? What lessons could we have learned?
I know that there’s no way we can keep all the stories of our families, our cities, our faith traditions? But more than ever, now, I am beginning to understand the importance of trying to get a variety of stories–because it’s only in seeing those various perspectives that we can begin to understand who we are…and learn the lessons we need to learn.