Dave and I opened the door to history when we spent a day at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts last week. I think of Sturbridge as a working man’s Williamsburg, the place my ancestors would have lived. The last time we toured here, Brent, now 36, rode in an umbrella stroller! From our 21st century vantage point, we looked back to the efforts needed merely to exist in the 1800s. My thoughts undulated from the old to the new to the eternal like slow moving waves as we walked back into early American history.
Shopping in the general store afforded choices of some merchandise made here. Still, many things came from Europe. Our forefathers accepted waiting, faced disappointments, and making do with what was available. By contrast, I thought of our 21st century struggles with road rage, our self-absorption, and wondered how our narcissistic behavior would baffle our ancestors. I thought how often I forget the admonitio0n to consider others better than ourselves and to be about the interests of others.
The Meeting House offered hard, uncomfortable benches and three-hour services. What a far cry from our current emphasis on worship that entertains. I mused over the scripture telling us to worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness. God promises that He will draw closed to us when we draw close to Him. The Bible sets no time limits on worship, but it does command us to worship God in Spirit and in truth.
The no-nonsense school teacher handled 45-60 students in the one-room school house. Once a student could read and cipher, he continued to study independently. Many teachers were themselves, only educated for six years in the same school house. No smart boards, multimedia presentations, field trips, or other of the must-haves of 21 century pedagogy. Education came as a privilege and not a right. I thought of Jeremiah’s words: “‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches, but let his who boasts, boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight’ declares the Lord.”
We entered the tin shop and watched the craftsman demonstrate the process as practiced two centuries ago. We stood, mesmerized as other artisans exhibited their skills. Whether the tinker, the blacksmith, potter, or mill operator, all worked long hours at tasks requiring skill and physical strength. Quality products came without labor unions or million-dollar bonuses to the CEO. It seemed to me that a work ethic permeated the workers. Whatever their hand found to do, they did it heartily.
Without the aid of a GPS or the comfort of suspension systems and air conditioning, people did travel from place to place. Folks endured dusty roads, broken wheels and highway robbers just to get to one another. Do I make an effort to visit people now when luxurious cars and interstate highways make it easy to travel? How self absorbed have I become? What does God call me to do with my time?
Meandering through the huge herb garden made me appreciate the wisdom of early Americans who grew herbs for medicinal use, bug control, food flavoring and preservation, and colorful dyes. They saw, with amazement, the wonders that lay in the world around them. We track through so much of creation, and leave nothing but destruction behind us. Did our ancestors have a deep knowledge that the earth is the Lord’s? I think most proved better caretakers than our generation.
As Dave and I walked out of Sturbridge late that afternoon, we looked back with appreciation to the resourceful Americans of our past. We also rethought some of the things we now do or leave undone. But perhaps most of all, we gave thanks to the One who stands sovereign over all creation. He sent us Jesus, He who is the same yesterday, today and forever.