Do this in memory of me.
Wherever the gospel is preached it will be done in memory of her.
They set up twelve stones so as to remember: we were slaves in Egypt.
As Protestants in the 21st century, we now enjoy a 500-year legacy. We have been protesting for half a millennium. Given such a huge amount of time, it may be hard to remember what we were so upset about in the 16th century.
As Americans near the 250th anniversary of the United States, we have nearly a quarter of millennia of history and union and a shared destiny. We have been about the process of democracy and civil rights for quite some time. Looking back, we can see some successes and some failures.
It’s hard to fathom time once we get beyond our lived experience. Can we really com-prehend what it must have been like to leave the small towns of southeastern England in the 1640s and sail across the Atlantic in a leaky boat to start a new life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony? Can we step into the shoes of someone who was born 400 years ago?
Despite the difficulties, we try. We seek to remember and we also seek to share our memories. Shared memory, collective memory, and public memory are often described as history. Yet, as we so often find when people describe their view of events in the past, our shared memories are sometimes at odds.
I have stumbled into an intriguing set of questions about memory and history. Is remembering the past an exercise in courage? We must remember the sacrifice and accomplishments of others so we too may find the strength to do the same. Is remembering the past an exercise in guilt? We must remember the mistakes and misdeeds of the past so we do not repeat them. Or is remembering the past a way of understanding how life is ever-changing but always the same?
When we try to answer these questions, we often build things. There are three intriguing ways we build places of memory. There are memorials—places where we grieve the past; there are monuments—places where we honor the past; and, there are museums—places where we interpret the past.
In the last year, I have been working on a project seeking to answer: why do we construct these? Some of my research was prompted by the debate over Confederate statues; some of the research was trying to navigate the difference between memory and understanding, and a fair amount of the research arose from trying to navigate my own genealogy. As I have done more and more research, I am beginning to see these three (memorial, monument, and museum) as reaching beyond buildings. They are not only matters of stone, but they are also matters of the heart.
During Lent this year, we will explore the memories we share. Twice each week (once in person and once on a zoom) you are invited to look at the memorials and monuments and museums we have created but also to discuss how our memories are shared, how they compliment and challenge one another.
We will look at this from a “civic” perspective, but also from a “sacred” one as well.
Details of times and places, zoom link and instructions are below. Consider making this your Lenten devotion. As I have explored these questions, I gained a different way of looking at our life together, our generations, and our hopes. Mostly, though, I gained a greater mastery of what it means to remember.