catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 15 :: 2004.09.24 — 2004.10.07


Energizing memories


The contemporary American church is so largely enculturated to the American ethos of consumerism that is has little power to believe or act. The internal cause of such enculturation is our loss of identity through the abandonment of the faith tradition. Our consumer culture is organized against history. There is a depreciation of memory and a ridicule of hope, which means everything must be held in the now, either an urgent now or an eternal now. Either way, a community rooted in energizing memories and summoned by radical hopes is a curiosity and a threat in such a culture. When we suffer from amnesia every form of serious authority for faith is in question and we live unauthorized lives of faith and practice unauthorized ministries. The church will not have power to act or believe until it recovers its tradition of faith and permits that tradition to be the primal way out of enculturation?


Walter Brueggeman, The Prophetic Imagination

Ronald came into our store this afternoon with his sister, Paula. Both seem to be mildly mentally handicapped and walk up and down Main Street every day. No one was sure what would happen to them when their parents died last year, but they seem to be doing fine on their own. In fact, Ronald has attended nearly every City Commission meeting for the past 27 years (since he was 17) and often approaches the mic during public comment time to state his opinion on various matters.


Ronald came into our store this afternoon because he knows that we're working to improve our small town and he remembers what the downtown area was like "back then." He remembers the shoe store and the bakery. He remembers not one, but two movie theatres, right across the street from one another, that offered tickets for $3.00, while today's mini-plex on the outskirts of town charges $7.25—too pricey for a tiny budget. And so the anticipated weekly feature is replaced by more wandering, searching for a friendly face and a willing ear. In his simplicity, Ronald knows that a spirit was abundant then that, today, has become very hard to find among the vacant downtown storefronts and the sprawling chain stores.

But this is not a piece about the virtues of local business, or small towns—it's about the virtues of what Brueggeman calls "energizing memories." It seems that the character of memory is bound up in Jesus' statement that we need to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. The most energizing memories of childhood guide our attempts to reclaim what it was that felt so right and magical in the original experience. Likewise, our collective memory that we were created for so much more prods us to actively seek the reclamation the Kingdom in our homes, churches, towns and countries.

However, as Brueggeman points out, American society's tendency toward consumerism and that tendency's consequences for the church weaken our ability to believe and act. Consumerism would have us believe, for example, that we need to "sell" our churches with slick marketing and a multitude of appealing, self-contained ministries and in this distracted state, we no longer act out the Gospel, belonging in community as members of one body offering ourselves as living sacrifices. In the long run, we run the risk of losing our identity as called sons and daughters of the Most High in exchange for belonging to a social club that adheres to a culturally-formed, false notion of our purpose. We run the risk of calculating our "success" as the Church in quantitative, rather than qualitative terms. But in remembering the origins of our faith and the reality of who we are called out to be, we also remember that the world will know we are Christians by our love and that the Spirit was not given to appease, but to challenge.

Brueggeman writes, "Prophetic ministry consists of offering an alternative perception of reality and in letting people see their own history in the light of God's freedom and his will for justice." To help others see their history this way, we must first learn to see our own history in a way that compels us to be critical of the present state of things, while at the same time energizing ourselves and others to work toward the promise of the Kingdom come. We must remember toward the future.

I look forward to more conversations with Ronald and others who remember the way our town used to be and wish to support efforts to reclaim that community spirit in large and small ways. As Brueggeman writes, "The issues of God's freedom and his will for justice are not always and need not be expressed primarily in the big issues of the day. They can be discerned wherever people try to live together and worry about their future identity." We certainly "live together and worry" here.

I also look forward to the interconnected conversation in today's church about how we "produce fruit in keeping with repentance." As we attempt to honor the claims of our tradition on every corner of our lives, may we possess both the will to criticize and the energy to reform.

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