Remember, Re-Member, Re-Imagine
“Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered.” Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture, Hope, Despair and Memory
“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” Hebrews 13:3
“Remember is a serious word, for it calls for more than just occasionally mentioning someone in prayer–it means behaving as if we, too, were in danger of imprisonment.” William Flippin Jr., pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Atlanta, You Visited Me
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” Martin Luther King, Jr., Trumpet of Conscience
“The loss of hope was the result of focusing too singularly on the present moment of defeat. An act of memory enables the speaker to look away from this defeat, in order to draw upon older, continuing resources. And this is what is remembered:
‘Yahweh’s mercy is surely not at an end, nor his is pity exhausted. It is new every morning. Great is your faithfulness! Yahweh is my portion, I tell myself, therefore will I hope.'” Walter Brueggemann
Washes of grief, disbelief, shock, anger, and trauma have saturated our collective spirits over these last several weeks, and this morning brings one more dousing of despair with the news of even more officers dead in Baton Rouge.
We can’t even find rest in repression for just a moment, because another act of violence comes about, jolting us into another event of fear and vulnerability and uncertainty and deep, deep sadness.
We are beaten down and bracing ourselves for more crushing news.
Bracketing the front portion of this wave of relentless violence was the July 2nd death of Elie Wiesel.
Wiesel survived the Holocaust, and served all of humanity as an author, a Nobel Laureate, and an incessant siren to the collective responsibility of remembrance.
His words excerpted above are but one small sample of his abundant teaching about the necessity of recollection, of telling the stories of oppression and injustice so that their horror and their truth won’t happen again. “It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered.” Incumbent–that’s a significant word. We have no choice but to remember. It is a command, a calling, a credo: Remember and tell.
Shortly after he died, I read Rev. William Flippin’s column in the most recent Living Lutheran, an article that is geared toward the call to visit those in prison. The base text for his reflection is from Hebrews (also cited above). But in his segment, he wrote the line above–a strung-together-set of words that is more than a line, but is a call: “Remember is a serious word, for it calls for more than just occasionally mentioning someone in prayer–it means behaving as if we, too, were in danger of imprisonment.”
As I heard somewhere in the last several weeks, white people will never get the fear and anger and frustration of blacks until we experience their oppression and deaths as our own. Thanks to Rev. Flippin, I hear this differently now: we won’t get it unless we are behaving as if we, too, are in danger of imprisonment–or of getting shot, or of loving someone who was shot because of the assumptions based on the color of their skin.
And in this mix, Martin Luther King Jr.’s words floated back to me: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” That is, remembering also means calling to account not only those who harmed by way of action, but by way of inaction. Remembering calls us to get in the streets, to call our legislators, to change our choices based on heretofore unrecognized privilege.
And finally Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann showed up on my screen.
I’m at Outlaw Ranch right now, in Custer SD, readying with SD Bp. Zellmer to teach the adults here this week about grace. This morning I’m finding the first time I’ve had to write and think in weeks (thanks to emptying boxes, signing on house closings, establishing electrical and gas and phone services, registering vehicles, learning new skills like how to steer riding mowers, and in general settling in to our new home and our new life in Two Harbors), and as I’m scanning some thoughts about grace, Brueggemann popped up on my iPad.
Walter Brueggemann is all about hope.
Hope, of course, is often yoked to the future, and for good reason: I hope for all sorts of future things that may or may not come to pass.
But Brueggemann suggests that hope is actually tied to the past and pulled into the future. For hope, he says, can be found in the recitation of events of despair and, still and even so, God’s constancy in the midst of it. If we return to the past–and not a whitewashed past, but the honest past–we can see where death has been evident and new life bursts forth anyway.
“An act of memory,” says Brueggemann, “enables the speaker to look away from this defeat, in order to draw upon older, continuing resources.”
What are those older resources? Texts. Tradition. Tales of God’s continuing love and grace and mercy and attention to the Least of These. To that end, he writes this:
Every time a pastor and a choir director get together to pick hymns, the work is one of constructive imagination designed to lead the congregation in turn to imagine the world in a certain way. Much worship is informed by tradition and conventional practice, but those who construct such worship must each time commit an act of imagination in order to determine what is to be accented and to adapt the advocacy.
Worship returns us to the raw and painful and yet occasional triumphal past to help us recreate a new future that mirrors and captures and stewards the reign of God.
Here’s the upshot of my ramblings and musings:
It seems to me that we are in a crisis of conscience, of community, of re-collection.
We people of privilege have too long forgotten the daily and all-too-long reality of those who are oppressed–or, to adapt Pr. Flippin’s words, we people of privilege have not often enough behaved in solidarity as if we too were oppressed.
Our convenient amnesia has manifested itself in more violence against blacks, and more violence against police officers.
Our convenient amnesia has lent itself to seeing the violence against blacks and officers as the problem rather than a symptom of a far greater, far older, far more virulent problem: that of systematic racism embedded in the very (all too often literal) body and blood of our country.
Those of us in the Church have a shot at redeeming our bent toward convenient repression: worship.
In worship, we gather together as members–that is, we Re-Member–to partake in a body and blood that is of a very different essence: one of equity, and welcome, and safety, and peace.
In worship we re-collect our identity found in text after text, tale after tale, teaching after teaching that tells of a society where the proud are scattered, the hungry are filled, the lowly are raised, and God remembers God’s mercy.
And we begin to re-imagine a new world, not just in theory, but in practiced and communally enacted being.
These painful weeks–and the probable painful weeks ahead–give us an opportunity to remember, and to re-member, and to re-imagine, and to re-form our communities (both congregational and civil) in protest to the past, in light of the past, in hope of the past, and in hope of a new future where Shalom rather than shootings saturate, wash, douse, our shared lives.
In the meantime, Lord, have mercy.