Archive for the ‘Memory’ Category

East Germany. Then & Now

A friend of mine, Duke professor Chris Rice, wrote about some fascinating observations during a recent trip to Romania and Poland. He described the lingering effects of Communism in those post-Soviet countries. His Romanian host told him, “We all smell of communism in Romania. It’s not something you rub off from your coat. It’s on the radio, at your job, in your school.  It’s the air you breathe. To say you’re immune is silly.” That is a perfect description of the Global Current of Memory: events, circumstances,  and values of the past are still very “alive” today, and influence how people respond to the gospel.


Rice cited the example of the senior devil in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, who instructed the junior devil on how to take away Christians’ joy. He suggested gradually removing all songs of triumph from Christians’ hymn books, leaving only songs of lament.  The Communists were just as ingenious and insidious, said Rice’s Polish host, “devilishly dividing people when they didn’t even realize what was being done to them.”  And that’s an especially evil characteristic of Memory: it is borne by everyday conditions, but is gradual and invisible.


Every culture and society has its own memory. In the U.S., our pervasive culture is materialism — “a more civilized god than Communism” according to a Romanian man.  But Rice cautions that “to say we are immune from materialism is to deny it has become the air we breathe. Others smell what we have become accustomed to.”  Rice concludes by suggesting that our willingness to practice a theology of ‘enough’ will be a critical test of American Christianity’s witness to the world today.


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“Memory” is a major factor of which Christians– or anyone trying to serve in cross-cultural settings — must be aware.  InThe Meeting of the Waters, I note that every country is “plagued by its ‘back story’–a term that literary critics use to describe relevant historical events that lie behind the current state of affairs.  (W)hen historical events or circumstances hold powerful sway in modern life, it is a reflection of the power of the Global Current of Memory.”

This Washington Post article brilliantly describes the complex and thorny topic of Memory.


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A reflection on Memory
by Christine Difato

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was leading a seminar discussion among people of several different nationalities about an environmental issue.

Many of them wanted to promote their cause by joining the town council, but not the German participant, who expressed her distrust of leadership stemming from her country’s past.

This is the Global Current of Memory in action.  Many young people reject authority and distrust institutions–including the church– which have let them down in the past.  So, youth in  former communist countries associate the church with corruption, and this German student associated it with abuse of power.

The global church has gotten away with operating in a very hierarchical manner for centuries, with designated leaders and organizers and significant barriers to all others. While this may have sufficed in the past, a different approach will be required in many settings around the world, in order to nurture and raise up the next generation.

The future global church must respond at two levels — organizational and personal.   On the one hand, young people like Apple Guy will demand to be involved with flexible and living structures that meet their desire for involvement and also continual change.  At the same time, those young leaders will need honest and open discussion to loose their chains of disappointment and to heal their toxic memories.

About the Author:

Christine Difato’s life has been a most unusual parade of constant transition and adjustment. Raised in a strong Christian family, when she left for college she encountered some harsh realities.  Like most college students, it was her first time on her own…but she also faced the added challenge of being completely blind and getting used to her first guide-dog, Freddie. After earning a BA degree, she went on a Fulbright scholarship to the former East Germany. There, as on her US college campus, other Christians were hard to find.  She soaked up German culture, and became fluent in German language. The pattern of stretching and adapting has continued, as she earned a Masters at Cambridge University and is now pursuing a PhD at the University of Exeter in the UK. Her research on immigration and education takes her regularly to places like Istanbul, Berlin, and London. She claims George MacDonald’s description of God as the North Wind: the way He looks might change, but we must hold tightly to His hand because it never changes. Even as God asks us to step out of our comfort zones, He is giving us the tools and strength to do so.

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John Stott constantly challenges Christians to be nimble of mind.  He affirms the Global Current of Memory in his writing (see below), as he discusses the need for Christians both to understand the world and to explore the depths of Biblical texts.  Believers must understand how recent and distant history have shaped the various places where we seek to present the Gospel today.
Biblical preaching demands sensitivity to the modern world.   Although God spoke to the ancient world in its own languages and cultures, he intends his Word to be for everybody. This means that the expositor is more than an exegete. The exegete explains the original meaning of the text; the expositor goes further and applies it to the contemporary world. We have then to struggle to understand the rapidly changing world in which God has called us to live; to grasp its movements of thought which have shaped it; to listen to its many discordant voices, its questions, its protests and its cries of pain; and to feel a measure of its disorientation and despair. For all this is part of our Christian sensitivity.

–From “The Contemporary Christian” (Leicester and Downers
Grove: IVP, 1992), p. 213.
–Excerpted from “Authentic Christianity”, pp. 333-334, by
permission of InterVarsity Press.

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A US base in Iraq lies empty after American troops abandoned it.  The military is gone, but there remain lingering signs of their presence–both physical and psychological.

The Washington Post published an article about the footprint left by the American military base.

Occupations probably never really end. Even after the last of the 115,000 U.S. soldiers leave, this one will live on in the national psyche, in the bearing of Iraq’s military, in cowboy boots, tattoos and, of course, language.

The memory of the US in Iraq will leave behind a lasting impression, just as happens all around the world in the wake of formative events.  This Global Current, Memory, is complex and mixed.  Some Iraqis view the US as liberators, and others see the US as occupiers.

Even at the most basic level, the troops left behind some relics of army culture, created some commerce for a season.

At the former FOB Summers, the sandbags stay behind. So does the generator, even though a fuel shortage has kept it from working this week. A red stop sign rendered in English remains at the gate. As do the graffiti. “USAF — Death on Call,” one reads. Basketball hoops still stand, without their nets. “No dunking,” warn signs on two of them. Scattered under one hoop is a “Quick Start Guide” for an armored vehicle known as an MRAP. “For official use only,” it says. Nearby are discarded letters from home, gathering dust.

See article:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/03/AR2009120304760.html?hpid=topnews

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