Signs of the Times • 4 July 2017 • No. 126
¶ Processional. “Memory,” Barbara Streisand.
Above: Maze Overlook, Canyonlands National Park-Utah-Photo by Tom Till
MEMORY AS SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE
Broadly speaking, there are two forms of memory loss, and both involve history.
Many of us have cared for, or now care for, loved ones enduring the ravages of dementia. It is heart-breaking, exhausting work. But this is not the topic of this column.
The other form of memory loss is a spiritual condition which also leads to brutal historical disordering but on a larger public scale. Theologically speaking, this kind of confusion—as to whom we belong, to whose purposes we are called, and over which security terms are trustworthy—leads to deceit, to violence, and to death.
This special issue was inspired by an article by my friend and colleague Joyce Hollyday, celebrating the departure of one of our congregation’s youth on a Witness for Peace delegation to Nicaragua. In 1983 Joyce was among the founders of Witness for Peace, a faith-based response to the Reagan Administration’s secret war against the government of Nicaragua, funded by illegal (some would say treasonous) sales of weapons to Iran
“I’ve been part of a lot of failures in the past three and a half decades,” Joyce writes. “Despite all our efforts for justice and peace, the world is a colossal mess. . . . Back in the 1980s, when I went to Nicaragua, I was an editor for Sojourners. One morning a call came into the magazine’s office from a friend in Congress. He reported that he had just come from a military briefing in which the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had announced:
“‘We could have invaded Nicaragua if we could have gotten the damn Christians out of the way.’”
(Read Joyce's essay, “Making a Difference.”)
Getting in the way of all sorts of traffickers of human and environmental misery is not the only thing we do in joyful response to Jesus’ summons, but often it’s a starting place. Such work doesn’t always “work.” We carry on, not so much to succeed but simply to breathe.
It’s always nice, though, to get an inkling of the results.
# # #
¶ Invocation. “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with God. God walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.” —C. S. Lewis
¶ Call to worship. “Precious Memories,” Alan Jackson.
¶ Memory recovery. The University of Virginia “is planning to build a large and visible memorial to commemorate the contributions of an estimated 5,000 enslaved people who helped build and maintain the school founded by the third U.S. president.” (See the artist’s rendering at left.) —Susan Svriuga, Washington Post (Thanks Sally.)
¶ More than 50 times the Pentateuch uses a variation of this statement, “Remember you were slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord Your God redeemed you” (Deut. 15:15). Similar expressions occur more than 100 times in the rest of the Hebrew Bible.
¶ Hymn of praise. “When there was no ear to hear / You sang to me. . . / When there were no strings to play / You played to me. . . / When I had no wings to fly / You flew to me. . . / When there was no dream of mine / You dreamed of me.” —Grateful Dead, “Attics of My Life”
¶ “A people’s memory sets the measure of its political freedom.” —Wilson Carey McWilliams
¶ Confession. “‘Remembering the future’ is at the heart of our redemptive calling. Remembering the future is what we ritually practice in the celebration of the Eucharist, communion, the Lord’s Supper. People on the Way of Jesus are by definition an unreasonable people—if, by reason, you mean . . . that respect comes at the price of threat.” —continue reading “Remembering the Future: a World Communion Sunday sermon”
¶ “To forgive is not to forget, but to remember in a different way—in a way that no longer holds us captive to the past.” —R. Schreiter, C.PP.S.
¶ Hymn of lamentation. “By the waters of luxury, we sat and tired to sing again / hung our harps of the traffic signs, ‘cause the music could not come. / In our capital captivity, heated and cooled by central air, / in an alien land that we made for ourselves, we tried to remember home.” —Ken Medema, “By the Waters of Luxury”
¶ Words of assurance. What can we do? We can hone our memory, we can learn from our history. We can continue to build public opinion until it becomes a deafening roar. . . . We can re-invent civil disobedience in a million different ways. In other words, we can come up with a million ways of becoming a collective pain in the ass. . . . Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” —Arundhati Roy
¶ Professing our faith. “If you want to be remembered, give yourself away.” — William Bryant Logan
¶ Hymn of resolution. “Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast; / God’s mercy shall deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp. / This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound, / Till the spear and rod can be quelled by God who is turning the world around.” —Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney & Theresa Donohoo, “Canticle of the Turning”
¶ Hymn of intercession. “Lord Remember Me,” Ruthie Foster, featuring the Blind Boys of Alabama.
¶ Short take. “When people say to me that the [monuments to the Confederacy] are history . . . it immediately begs the questions, why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings [540 alone in Louisiana], nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame. . . . So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.” —New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landreu, explaining why the city recently removed statues commemorating the Confederacy. Read the full text or watch the video (23:04).
Left: Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee being removed in New Orleans.
¶ “I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessing cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.” —excerpt from “17th century nun’s prayer”
¶ By the numbers. The establishment of Confederate monuments [numbering more than 700], which crested between 1900 and 1930 and again during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, didn’t end with the 20th century. Their numbers actually have been increasing. In North Carolina, for instance, 35 monuments have been added since 2000, according to a University of North Carolina survey. One, dedicated in Mitchell County in 2011, commemorates 79 men “who died for their freedom and independence.’’ And not for slavery. —Rick Hampson, USAToday
¶ Offertory. “Lord Do Remember Me,” Mississippi John Hurt.
¶ Preach it. “Essentially, a church is a community that keeps alive the dangerous memories of its classics. The memory of Jesus, for example, disconcerts all present reality, including that of the church, because He essentially afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted. . . . This is a dangerous occupation.” —David Tracy
¶ Can’t makes this sh*t up. The “Colfax Riot” (see historical marker at right) was not a riot but a massacre. During Reconstruction, following the Civil War, a Fusion-Republican party (coalition of black and white citizens) made significant electoral gains in Grant Parish, Louisiana. A group of white vigilantes attacked the Colfax courthouse in an attempted coup d’état. Most of the 150 African Americans killed were murdered after they surrendered.
¶ "The one who delivers the blow forgets. The one who bears its mark remembers." —Haitian proverb
¶ South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which began hearings in 1996, is the most well known of dozens of such efforts in other countries. The goal for each has been to face a brutal history of repression in order to set the stage for public healing. Here is a list of such commissions elsewhere, including one in Greensboro, NC.
¶ "Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." —Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
¶ Call to the table. At this table of remembrance, the Blessed One is at work disremembering your soiled and sullied moments, saying, “Won’t you join me in disremembering the slights you still clutch?”
“Behold,” the Spirit whispers to all with ears to hear, “I am doing a new thing, beyond your wildest dreams and favored calculations!” —continue reading “Remembering in a different way: A call to the Table
¶ “The body remembers what the mind forgets.” —Martha Manning
¶ “In In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies, David Rieff quotes approvingly the suggestion of a Northern Irish writer that the next memorial to Irish history should be ‘raising a monument to Amnesia, and forgetting where we put it.’” —Gary J. Bass
¶ "Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a habit that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It's a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be." —Krista Tippett
¶ The state of our disunion. A Confederate memorial in front of the Anderson County, South Carolina courthouse bear this inscription: "The world shall yet decide, in truth's clear, far-off light, that the soldiers who wore the gray, and died with Lee, were in the right.”
¶ Best one-liner. “One day we’ll wake to remember how lovely we are.” —Bruce Cockburn, “Wait No More”
¶ For the beauty of the earth. A flock of starlings in startling performance. A film by Liberty Smith and Sophie Windsor Clive, music by Nomad Soul. (2:00.)
¶ Altar call. “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to
emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.” —Howard Zinn
¶ What to tell the children? “. . .You tell them / To stand up and fight. / Remind them of all the lawful atrocities / Committed in the sick and twisted history / Of this violent country. . . / Tell them love will win this war, / But only if we remember / That love is not just one unending cuddle puddle, / But fierce as a mother bear protecting her cubs.” —Rachel Kann
¶ Benediction. “Remember your ancestors. Say their names out loud and often. Give thanks that you are not alone. You are not creating this movement out of nothing. It’s been done over and over again. Your work is simply to offer new gifts to old work.” —Lydia Wylie-Kellermann
¶ Recessional. “When I am laid, am laid in earth, / May my wrongs create / No trouble, no trouble in thy breast. / Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate. / Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” —Alison Moyet, Dido’s Lament from “Dido and Aeneas” by Henry Purcell
¶ Lectionary for this Sunday. “O God of justice, ignite the hearts of our legislators with your commitment to truth and your demand for justice. May their hands be large enough to reach across the bloody divisions in our land.” —continue reading “Give wisdom to legislators,” a litany inspired by Psalm 72
¶ Lectionary for Sunday next. “To the Blessed One of Heaven does my heart heave its burden. / For release from my shame, I wait all the day long. / Silence accusers; still every sharp tongue. / For pardon amid failure, I wait all the day long.” —continue reading “All the day long,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 25
¶ Just for fun. When sculpture and kids interact.
# # #
Featured this week on prayer&politiks
• “Remembering the Future,” a World Communion Sunday sermon
• “Remembering in a different way,” a call to the Table
©Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org. Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor, as are those portions cited as “kls.” Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.
Your comments are always welcomed. If you have news, views, notes or quotes to add to the list above, please do. If you like what you read, pass this along to your friends. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.