Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Friday is for Friends

posted by xscot mcknight

There are two uses of memory according to the 5th chp of Miroslav Volf’s The End of Memory. There is literal memory and exemplary memory. What we do with our memories is what matters most — do we “do” literal or exemplary with our memory?
Literal memory constructs a plausible (even truthful) narrative of injustice in order to create personal well-being. Exemplary memory constructs a narrative of injustice in order to create justice in this world; it finds “lessons.”
How, for instance, do we remember the churches we grew up in? Do we remember them literally — to prove ourselves right — or in an exemplary fashion — to help establish an even better church?
Volf observes that it is not simple: even if we are committed to exemplary memory, do we abuse the memory in order to create a reactive reality? We tend to blur the victim and the victimizer and we at times find it difficult to know which lesson to draw from our memory.
Here’s a big, big point: exemplary memory only works when memory is saturated into a larger narrative so that we can develop a principled opposition to injustice, so that the exemplary lesson is a just lesson.
How to do this? There are four elements in an exemplary memory, and he draws these from the Jewish and Christian practice of remembering the Exodus and the Lord’s Supper.
1. Identity: Exodus and Cross memories shape identity.
2. Community: Exodus and Cross emerge from and shape a community.
3. Future: Exodus and Cross are not only memory but they frame the future.
4. God: Exodus and Cross are not just social events, but God’s intervention and promise.
Volf has now led us to this: for memories to be redemptive, they have to be memories that — like Exodus and Cross — are memories shaped by a larger Jewish or Christian narrative that gives shape to how we learn to remember injustices.
Next week: no Friday is for Friends. We remain friends, of course, but we’ll be in transit from Ixtapa to Chicago. I’ll resume in two weeks.



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Ted Gossard

posted December 29, 2006 at 5:42 am


Yes. To be steeped in the narrative/Story of God is so important. And I really like this divide he makes between literal and exemplary memory. I have erred at times on the literal side, though acknowledging even then, something of the exemplary in acknowledging the good that was there in the past.
I don’t think we look at the Exodus and the Cross with this in mind, much at all. That we need to learn to do so. And this will surely take some imaginative work on our part, based from Scripture, and by the Spirit, in community.



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Kate Johnson

posted December 29, 2006 at 8:34 am


This is an interesting distinction. The true meaning of Romans 8:28 is redemptive, taking as Volf says, life in context of a much bigger picture/narrative. It is God redeeming the memories (working all things for good) for literal (our well-being) and exemplary (finding a lesson) purposes. While the two can be separated, the purpose of the trial or tragedy (or abuse or harm done) becomes meaningful only to us when we see only the literal. While that is redemptive to an extent, it does not truly give meaning to what one has endured… and we often need to find a larger meaning in context of a larger life narrative for what we have suffered… and this is needed for our own well-being, our “personal sanity” so to speak. (I received the book yesterday, so look forward to reading it for a full understanding of Volf’s premise.)



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Linda Mortensen

posted December 29, 2006 at 10:18 am


“How, for instance, do we remember the churches we grew up in? Do we remember them literally — to prove ourselves right — or in an exemplary fashion — to help establish an even better church?”
Sometimes emergents are guilty of literal memory here. I know of some college students in another part of my state that left an emergent church because nearly everything the church did was in reaction to the injustices of former churches. Core members were angry and bitter and never really picked up on the idea that they ought to live differently and bless others. Their sense of community was wrapped up almost solely in common complaints but not in any gratefulness for what God had done for them or in a vision for how God might bless them in the future. This is literal memory at its worst. How sad. I wonder if a skilled leader could have helped this congregation to deal honestly and corporately with past injustices and move into a new story. The students didn’t stay to find out.



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John Frye

posted December 29, 2006 at 6:10 pm


It struck me, Scot, in reading your comments about the place of “story” in exemplary memory that we USAmerican evangelicals are sorely deficient in living from “story,” especially God’s big story. We have so atomized and systematized the story that we live on snippets and post-it notes of the story. There is no sense of a powerful tide that can sweep up our memories and reshape them redemptively. We don’t live with a sense of redemptive continuity with the past, and mostly with an “end times” escapist view of the future. What do you think?



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