The Need to Remember Rightly

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On a day when there will be a number of calls to ‘Never Forget’ I want to add a caution that we need to be willing to remember rightly. The destruction and violence of September 11, 2001 cost the 19 hijackers and 2,977 victims their lives and impacted the lives of many others physically, emotionally and economically. Remembering rightly we can pause and remember the emotions of the day, the sadness the confusion, the fear and the desire to put things right that many people felt, in fact you cannot remember an event rightly without the emotion that goes with the event. However, sometimes the call to ‘Never Forget’ can be transformed into a call to ‘Never Forgive’ and as a follower of Christ that is a place that I cannot remain. In Christ I am called to love my enemies, to pray for those who persecute me so that I may live into my identity as a child of God. (Matthew 5.44f) ‘Never Forget’ can also become transformed into ‘Never Again’ where any numbers of actions are justified by the fear of some other entity or individual causing harm or destruction. Remembering may have the function of a shield to protect us from easily allowing harm to come to us again, but as Miroslav Volf insightfully says:

It is because they remember (emphasis original) past victimization that they feel justified in committing present violence. Or rather, it is because they remember their past victimization that they justify as rightful self-protection what to most observers looks like violence born of intolerance of even hatred. So easily does the protective shield of memory morph into a sword of violence. (Volf 2006, 33)

If we are to remember, to grieve, to mark the day then let us also remember who we were on that day. The events in our life matter to our identity but we should never allow an act of senseless violence to transform our identity into something different. We have had a dozen years of acting on the memory of September 11, 2001 and having the memory act upon us, of stealing our attention for both good and ill. But we do not need to allow the beast of this tragic memory to shape us in its image or allow it to impact our own ability to interact with others, to love and to trust. If we do that terror has won, and in attempting to ‘Never Forget’ we become trapped into a cycle of violence. If we remember September 11, 2001 we also need to reflect upon our own reactions to that day as a people. In our responses in many ways (militarily, economically, security, etc.) we need to examine: are we allowing the fear that the events of that day to transform our identity as a people into something different?

Our memories and stories define us as individuals and as a people and as important as the events of September 11, 2001 are they are not the central events in either our nations’ story or specifically to me as a Christian and as a pastor to the story of our lives in Christ. To allow the memories of September 11, 2001 to take over that central part of our identity would be to neglect the other central stories of our identity. Within my own calling I follow a God who is both just but who justifies the ungodly, who can love me and my enemy, who meets me most concretely at the very point of injustice and rejection (in the crucifixion). As Martin Luther said in The Freedom of a Christian:

A Christian lives not in himself (sic), but in Christ and his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love. (Volf 2006, 198)

So as we remember this day may we remember in the light of love and reconciliation. May we remember rightly in light of our own identities and not allow the terror of the day to redefine who we are.

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