I am writing this blog from Grove City College in Pennsylvania where I am attending the Western PA “Cooperative School of Christian Mission” sponsored by the United Methodist Women of WPA.
It started raining as I walked across the campus, which reminded me a cross between Seattle Pacific and Duke with the architecture, the stone work, and the foliage. I ducked into the Student Union Building and explored that a bit, and I came across a room on the second floor that overlooked most of the campus. I watched as the rain washed over a boulder in the middle of campus. This stone had some significance because it was marked with a plaque and benches and landscaping surrounded it. I thought, “Now I wonder how many people would know the story of that stone if it had no plaque and no benches. If no one or nothing helped people to remember why it held significance than – for most – it would be just another large stone.” I started thinking about “Ebenezer” – Hebrew for stone of remembrance – a stone used as a symbol to mark something significant.
Remembering done well is not merely idealizing the past for it helps to reconstitute the significant event or moments in a way that moves them from a past experience and grows them into a living part of the past. This re-membering done well serves as a basis for tradition. When it is not done well it can verge on the edge of sentimentality and mundane routine. Re-membering well helps people to find their significance in something other than their current circumstances. Re-membering well reminds people that their lives are located within a narrative greater than their own, and their story only makes sense when located within the larger story of humanity, the world and all of creation.
The 4th of July serves as an Ebenezer of sorts for me, yet not in more ways than just the traditional sense. For many Americans, The 4th symbolizes freedom and it is remembered with hot dogs, watermelon, and fireworks. For me, though, The 4th serves as a marker of significant moments in my life and my faith journey. For example, last year we arrived in Maine on The 4th to begin this current stage of our journey. In the past 12 years The 4th has found me serving in various ministry contexts: Latvia, France, Italy, Israel, Kosovo, Branson, MO, Santa Cruz, CA, and Albania. Each of these places marks significant moments in how the faith journey and serving in ministry mesh together in the reality of life in this world.
I let The 4th pass by this year with a faint nod of acknowledgement, and maybe that is why I am writing this blog. I need to re-member the border crossing in a war zone, the dropping of watermelons from a climbing tower, the lighting of store bought fireworks in a field, and the conversations with friends across the world. I need to re-member, because it reminds me that my story only makes sense within the stories of friends, and within the larger story of God’s work in this world.
Re-membering my story, and ultimately, God’s faithful work and steadfast love in the midst my story, helps me to live with hope even though I don’t understand the frustrations and disappointments of the past few months. Re-membering well can bring perspective and open me up to receive the deep peace that God offers. Re-membering well allows opportunities for the restoration of joy.