We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
from In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
Sunday, November 11, 2018 was the one-hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of World War One in Europe. The festivities have been solemn, and rightly so. But sometimes, an ocean away in America, we somehow do not feel the connection to the destruction and loss of life that occurred in this war. Being so far removed both geographically and personally, our elected officials seem indifferent. Or unobservant. Or uneducated. Or perhaps, a combination of all three!
What we forget becomes just history. It fades into our memories like the sepia-toned photos of WW1. It also becomes normalized. It blots out any sense of urgency or crisis. It removes any motivation to respond, to teach against it or try and change the status quo. The suffering of others does not affect us; it’s just one more sad story.
I recognize that the quick turn of the news cycle causes stories to quickly flow from our memories. The next big event is splashed across the screen with a sonorous announcement from the newscasters. But the crises of a year ago? A decade ago? A century ago? We are hard-pressed to recall them. We seem to flit from one headline to the next, not remembering that we’ve seen stories like this before.
In the last two weeks, we have had more mass shootings here in the US. A synagogue in Pittsburgh. A country bar in Thousand Oaks. A private home in Memphis. We are not immune to these tragic events, in fact, we all know that “it could have been me.” But how do we respond as people of faith? How can we retain our history so that we respond as instruments of healing, rather than hate? When events occur in an ever-increasing stream, how do we face them without becoming jaded or just numb?
Perhaps if we pay more attention to the Present, so that we can recall how events similar to these were overcome in the Past. Perhaps if we call out racism and xenophobia when we see it. Every single time. Perhaps if we refuse to normalize selfish ambition and pride at the expense of others’safety and livelihood. Perhaps if we are merciless in our rebuke of hateful actions, but generous in our restoration of the repentant. Perhaps if we remember more completely the history of violent events as recorded in the Hebrew and Christian scripture. Perhaps if we remind one another how evil attempts to gain a foothold, and God brings justice and deliverance.
Our Jewish neighbors remind each other every year at Passover of what God has done. As they read the Haggadah they recite the works of God, the response of God’s people and the joy of deliverance. At Yom Ha’Shoah, they recall the killing of millions of Jews during the Holocaust, reading the names over the course of the day. They honor the anniversary of the day someone dies with special prayers in their congregation. Relating, remembering, recounting the stories keeps them fresh and meaningful.
Our liturgies and litanies in the Church provide a similar function. Remembering. Counting the cost. Holding close the sacred moments of baptism, confirmation, and communion that unite us. Carrying our griefs and sins to the Presence of Christ. Admitting where we have failed and seeking to experience the Spirit’s renewal. Embracing forgiveness and grace and offering it to others.
But we must remember these past sins. We must admit where we have encroached on the dignity and value of persons of color, of nations with different faiths. With every forward step through time we must bring that memory with us. Our short-term memory will improve if we do.
Rev. Deborah Vaughn is a hospice chaplain endorsed by the Alliance of Baptists, and Assistant Minister at Twinbrook Baptist Church in Rockville, MD. She blogs at An Unfinished Symphony and was a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. She is an avid Buckeye fan down to her scarlet-painted toes!
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