I read these words of Kenneth Bailey this week: We are what we remember. Individuals and communities select what they choose to remember. That selection shapes their identity.
As I begin the preparations to move away from the benefice, what will I remember of my time here? What will I select to remember that will shape things moving forward. What will you choose to remember of the last 6 years? For some of you new to faith I am the only vicar you have known, for others I am simply one in a very long list of rectors who have come and gone.
In some ways I don’t agree with what Bailey says. Selective memory like selective hearing can be a dangerous thing.
All of us experience good things and bad things. Selectively remembering only the good things does us no good. I’m always struck that the Gospels do not sanitise out the sometimes rather questionable behaviour of the disciples: the fact they squabble among themselves – playing who’s the greatest games; the “not getting” so much that Jesus spells out to them; Peter’s wretched denial of Jesus being his friend.
If we played the selective memory game – all of that would have been wiped off the slate, and we would be the poorer for it. Without the full detail of Peter’s denial there could have been no restitution, forgiveness and the commission to be the rock of the church. Just like the disciples we are not sanitised people (however much hand gel we have used in the last few months): we are humans with flaws and failures.
Selective memory can lead to denial, burying hurts or failures rather than looking them square in the eye, and can lead to to viewing the past though rose tinted spectacles.
Or indeed it can lead to the opposite – it can lead to the nursing of community grievances, restoring them when they start to fade, poking them back into malevolent life. Do we view ourselves as church communities that have been “wronged”, badly treated, hurt – communities that have suffered, or do we view ourselves as communities that have been recipients of God’s grace, divine blessing and love?
Community memories matter – and they should contain the good and the bad. Sometimes bad memories will be triggered, and sometimes that can be the right thing to happen, if the remembering helps us to learn and to understand more about our own actions and faith. Sometimes the process of forgiving hurts and difficult times in the past does require us to revisit painful issues. It is the spirit in which that is done that counts: the intention must be about redemption rather than grievance.
My time in the Okeford benefice has had its hard moments – Pewgate for example will stay with me for a while – but I can say quite truthfully that the blessings and the grace and the love have immeasurably outweighed the negative times. Most of the time I felt I was running just to keep up with God’s blessings on us and that is the memory-mix I wish to retain. Perhaps then we can together as a gift to each other ponder on what “identity” we want to give to the last 6 years, and what shape that will give to our future in our respective places.