In a world where we can’t always keep up with what’s happened today, we don’t often go to the trouble of wrapping our heads around the long ago. However at uni I was lucky enough to find lecturers with a gift for bringing old stories into the present, so I dabbled in history. Those storytellers didn’t just shine a light on the past, they lit up current events as well.

Mr Caldwell taught world history and, to cram it all in, he taught it at speed. He would stalk from one side of the room to the other as he spoke with machine-gun rapidity, pausing his tall, angular frame just long enough to scratch key phrases on the whiteboard. Every so often he’d conclude a monologue, approach one of the phrases, and jab several lines under it with the marker. Then he’d turn, sweep his sharp gaze over the 20 or so students before him, and shrug: “So what?”

It usually took a few “so whats” and an arm flung at the board before one of us would answer—we needed a minute to bob back up from the latest wave of information and take in the view. We couldn’t simply memorise names and dates; we had to tell him why they mattered. So we learned that every key event hangs on events that came before, and that, like all ancestors, they matter too. We won’t know everything about them. We may disagree about what matters most. But they add perspective to our lives the way that The Remarkables frame Queenstown’s vistas.

As a community of believers, parts of our collective history matter a great deal. What would our churches look like if Martin Luther hadn’t called out the Roman Catholic Church in 1517? Would we have a treaty under which Māori could contest injustices if the Claphamites and the missionaries they sent had not pushed back against colonisation? Do we remember the great cost people paid to ensure that we have access to God’s word?

We are marking a few key dates this season, both as a nation and as a church. These days provide an opportunity for us to stop, reflect on what’s come before and ask ourselves: “So what?”

Maryanne Wardlaw is editor of Canvas and TSCF’s Communications Manager.