Improvised Remembrance in a Culture of Remembrance

Some of the most busy nights when we were out on the streets of Perth doing detached youthwork were the nights when young people were drinking publically in the streets in groups, it happened quite alot. As workers we would obviously speak to them as they were drinking (they didnt cause us any alarm or harm), often because it was friday, or saturday, or that it had become a regular pattern for them, however on the not so in-frequent occasions, the young people would be out in groups drinking because of the anniversary of the death of a friend, or a friend of the family, but usually and tragically it was the death of a friend. And no this isnt a social commentary of the death rates of Perthshire young people, but it was noticeable that these significant dates were well known to the young people, remembered and a cause for gathering, for drinking and for remembering.

The North East, and other centres of the UK with proud industrial heritages, continues to have reminders, and memories of previous glories; from the mining villages of Nottinghamshire, or Durham, or Wales,  Steel in Teeside or Mills in Yorkshire. These memories dominate, and almost define landscapes, conversations and create cultures of memories. It was interesting, that living in Ottery St Mary, a town in which there was a mill, employing 300+ people 25 years ago that had closed. The memory of the working of the mill was almost a non conversation.

As i stood in the rain, and wind just off the North sea today, and watched a number of fishing boats and sailing boats in the Sea, in the foreground was the remembrance service on the Headland, Hartlepool. 101 years since the Bombing of Hartlepool, in particular Headland, in the First world war.  A part of the town gathered to remember. Those for whom standing in a warmer church would be rare, but remembering the horror, and acknowledging efforts, and continuing efforts for peace was a cause to be out in the open air, reciting the Lords Prayer, and singing songs in the rain.

If there is some truth in this Sentiment; that the future is bleakly heralded in by young people, then there is some comfort, or at least assurance that the past has already happened, and they survived. Living in a culture of rememberance takes them back to good times with those whom they have lost, and away from a presently heralded future that is raw, real and bleak in outlook.

Without stating the obvious, Christianity has its own culture of remembrance. It remember the Salvation narrative of God the creator, the liberation and covenant of Isreal, the incarnation of Jesus and the emergence of the early church.  In those memories of the story, and recollections of the present God it is said, according to Thiselton “Interacts with the world through actions marked by purpose, duration, periodicity, tempo and eventfulness”, it is “an historical dialogue between God and man in which something happens” (Thiselton 2007:64, cf Rahner)

As in the situations above, each of the circumstances, the young people, and the communities, and the church, re-create their own mini narratives as defined by their told story – it implies a meaning, as Ricoeur explains;  “The coherance and continuity of narrative depend in part upon the mind performing three functions; those of expectation, attention and memory” (1984-88). It is a personal emplotment, largely defined with a reason for present actions based on past interpretation of event (s).

In the Christian story, the past and present actors, the participants, continue to emplot the story; by dynamically sense of making (poiesis) a representation in terms of time and action (Ricoeur), Aristotle sees agents within the continuing narrative as persons engaged in action (taken from Thiselton 2007:65). Our improvisation is based upon founding history and memory. To do this is remembrance, is to act in present situations, with founding and foretasting in mind.

Wells goes on to say; “The key factor in reincorporation is memory. Memory is much more significant than originality. The improviser does not set out to create the future, but responds to the past, reinvigorating it to form a story… the improviser looks back when stuck” (Wells , The Drama of Christian ethics p 130,131)

In a culture where looking back seems a comfort, the good old days, does the remembering of the Christian story too act as comfort to the Christian? Well obviously, and so should the promise of future hope – that the bleakness of a temporal future is in context with an eternal hope. Our future acting is hope derived, not bound by memory, but with expectation, artisitic recreation in new presents, with a mindfulness of the story we continue to participate in.




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