Tag Archives: Memory

The Story Collector

I listen on the cell phone as the coverage cuts in and out
Straining to hear every word, listen to the emotion there
As across the connection comes the other’s fear and doubt
But in the tear drenched words there is a gift beyond compare
They have trusted me with their story, I’ll hold it close to me
For that is what story collectors do for the world that they see
 
A family comes from across the country to gather together
To remember a man who made an impact on their life
And I sit and listen, collecting as their memories untether
As tears and laughter mix with joy and love, pain and strife
They have trusted me with their story, I’ll hold it close to me
For that is what story collectors do for the world that they see
 
So often, they wonder, those whose stories I’ve heard
How I can enter these times of hurt, loss and despair
It’s not always easy to enter the pain, to carry each word
But the gift that they’ve given is beyond all compare
They have trusted me with their story, I’ll hold it close to me
For that is what story collectors do for the world that they see
 
The stories I gather will never be committed to paper and ink
For they are shelved in my mind, locked in my memory’s circulation
But in my mental library holds them so that when I think
I can learn from all of their lives, struggles and perspiration
They have trusted me with their story, I’ll hold it close to me
For that is what story collectors do for the world that they see

Nostalgia

Nostalgia: From Greek ‘nostos’-returning home + ‘algos’- pain

Memories can contain truth and still be a lie
And we can be homesick for a home that was never ours
Sometimes the picture of the past is painted in the brushstrokes of nostalgia
Wide strokes that blur the sharper points of reality, dulling the story
Concealing the jagged edges of pain, sorrow and regret
Choosing colors far more vibrant for the memory than the sepia past
Caught walking backwards on a road that continually pulls us forward
Oblivious to the pitfalls and potential of the present or the promise of the future
Bent on returning to a home far smaller than we imagine in our minds
And a past that never was, at least not quite the way we remember
For our memories can contain truth and still be a lie
 
When the memories of the past overwhelm our imagination for the future
Or our appreciation of the present, then our homecomings will always be sad
Freighted with the expectations that they can never live up to
Loaded with a past too heavy for the ambiguity of the present to stand
We can look into the mirror of our desires trying to create a better past
But perhaps instead of continuing to attempt to touch up the painting of the past
We can begin the new canvas that stands before us blank awaiting our brush

Neil White, 2016

Back to Reality

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

Just a throwaway phrase from a conversation
“Back to reality” and the brief escape was over
Not that reality was some type of horrific existence
Some nightmare that needed to be escaped
But for a brief moment time seemed to had slowed
And it really was a vacation to some other place
Some undiscovered corner of the mind
Where the worries and wonderings of the world outside ceased
Where for a moment I was there and here at once
And I wanted to stay, but I needed to go
And so it was back to reality, back to the world I know
But sometimes my mind drifts away from reality
To another time and place and feeling
And my heart smiles and aches and dreams
Of what ifs and could’ve beens
But then again I must at some point have to return
Back to reality.

The Need to Remember Rightly

170px-911_Tribute_(perspective_fixed)

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.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

Trusting a Dream: Haggai 2

Bust of the Prophet Haggai by GIovanni Pisano, last quarter of the 13th Century

Bust of the Prophet Haggai by Giovanni Pisano, last quarter of the 13th Century

Haggai 2

In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.

 10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 11 Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests for a ruling: 12 If one carries consecrated meat in the fold of one’s garment, and with the fold touches bread, or stew, or wine, or oil, or any kind of food, does it become holy? The priests answered, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered, “Yes, it becomes unclean.”

 14 Haggai then said, So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the LORD; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. 15 But now, consider what will come to pass from this day on. Before a stone was placed upon a stone in the LORD’s temple, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD. 18 Consider from this day on, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is there any seed left in the barn? Do the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree still yield nothing? From this day on I will bless you.

 20 The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders shall fall, every one by the sword of a comrade. 23 On that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the LORD, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts.

 

It is easy to start a project, but when something is going to take a while it may be harder to bring it to completion. For example, many people make New Years Resolutions, few manage to keep them throughout the year. Weight loss either through exercise or diet works really well on the front end, but most people quit and never make the changes that are necessary to prevent the weight from returning. A long building project may start out great, but if it takes more than a couple weekends it may begin occupying space in the garage. I have started a project of going through the book of Jeremiah, all 52 chapters and I’m reluctant to publish anything until I get far enough in to be confident I might actually finish it (or my place of authority work which is currently in a season of writers block because I really am not at the point where I feel confident in my own position to write about what should logically come next, the Rise of Islam). Well in Haggai, the people and the leaders in Judah are re-embarking on a long term construction project with the temple. It is not going to go together overnight or even in a year, but they have begun. God here is encouraging them that he will be with them through this project, that they will be blessed in this project and that ultimately the silver and gold of the nations will come to fill the house with splendor.

This is a people who has dealt with drought and they are having to learn to think in a new way. In a drought you go into survival mode, you hoard what you have, but God is trying to take them into a way of living with enough, or maybe even abundance. A way of living where they can focus on something that can be used by everyone. It is a much more civic and theologically minded approach to living. There is some benefit to the temple for everyone, and the people will be blessed in and through its construction.

A couple thoughts: Haggai definitely works from what is sometimes called a Deuteronomic theology “If you do good you will be blessed, if you do evil you will be cursed” this is not the New Testament’s predominant theology, but I do think we do need to consider it. In what ways do our actions and the ways in which we live effect our wealth, status, happiness, etc… There is obviously not a one to one correlation, and often those who live the most righteous appearing lives seem to suffer the most, but God appears to believe that our actions are important for God’s plans and that God will add his work to the work the people are doing.

One of the dynamics that may be functioning is the dynamic of memory. Some of the older people may remember the temple torn down by the Babylonians, and the temple being built is ‘as nothing’ and this happens in churches as well. “I remember the way it was when I grew up” and while the memories may be good they can also be dangerous. Any time our memory of the past is greater than our hope for the future we are approaching the point of despair. I know people who grasp for a past that is no longer present and fear the present and future, but there are no time machines and we are a people who are future oriented not past oriented.

As W. Eugene March correctly states, “Although the main concern of Haggai the prophet was the rebuilding and rededication of a relatively insignificant temple in a small district in the backwaters of the Persian Empire (at least as far as the world would have judged it), the real issue is worldwide domination of the Lord of hosts.” (Achtemeier, Elizabeth et. al 1999, 7:731) The larger church I am a part of for the last couple of years has used the slogan, “God’s work, our hands” and this is one of those times where the work of our hands may seem insignificant but we trust that the  impact may be larger than what we know.  Just as it may not seem like Zerubbabel is not very significant, but in God’s eyes he is chosen, a signet ring. Maybe it is only a dream, and that is always the risk of trusting and faith, but it is a dream worth having.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com