Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Do This in Memory: The Obligation to Stand in Solidarity as the Precondition of Remembrance

I wrote yesterday about how, woven deep into the heart of many faith communities of the world, is the conviction that we have an obligation to remember.  We cannot choose to regard the victims of history as the mere detritus of history, the raw material on whose backs our contemporary “progress” and “civilization” are unfortunately constructed, because the past is never past.  Those victims and their pain live on, whether we choose to listen or not.

And we are those victims.  Everything that makes us who we are depends on all of those who have preceded us.  We do not exist without that chain of causality and consequence in the past.

And so we have a profound obligation to remember, if we want to be human.

But speaking of remembrance can be altogether too easy, as if remembrance is merely a solemn, occasional ritual act set apart from the hustle and bustle of daily living, something in which we can engage and then return to our usual business, distinguishing our usual business sharply from what we do within the context of ritual remembrance.

As I think about those whose voices have been silenced, whose lives were prematurely snuffed out, frequently in the name of God, I have to challenge myself to keep in mind the central words of remembrance in the liturgical tradition of my own faith community:

Do this in remembrance of me.

Not, Remember.  Not, Keep my legacy in mind.

Not, Repeat my words over and over to those who follow in my footsteps.

Do this.  Do this to remember.

Do this to put the pieces back together.  Do this to re-member me and my legacy.

Built into the ritual life of my own faith community is the inescapable recognition that, in remembering those whose lives have deliberately been destroyed and whose contributions to the community have been disdained and thwarted, I must do something.

I must stand in solidarity not with the victors but with the victims of history.

I must allow my own life to be swept up in the dangerous tides of hope (and failure) that make history, in light of the vision of the eschatological reign of God.

And I will fail as I do that, because that vision is incapable of realization, this side of the eschaton.

But it is, paradoxically, only by failing that I keep that vision alive for the future, either for myself or for anyone else.   It is only by standing in active solidarity with all those who struggle to construct a humane world—and who will fail at that task—that I/we point to the possibility of such a world, when over and over again, everything that happens in history conspires to daunt that vision.

And to dismember forever the lives and contributions of those on whom the illusion of progress is built.