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The Virtue of Memory

A friend sent me a link to an article today. His email subject heading said, "memory is more than a theological virtue." A subject line like that reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Memory of Old Jack, by Wendell Berry in which you might expect a theological lesson. However, if you clicked the first link, you might be wondering what an article about Michael Jordan's birthday has to do with theology or virtues, but the author (Michael Wilbon) demonstrates a wonderful point about our tendency to forget the past in favor of the most recent. Especially for those of us here in Milwaukee, I appreciated Wilbon's reference to Oscar Robertson's season when he averaged a triple-double.

A different friend and I were recently devising our own list of the best 10 NBA players. When he didn't want to include Oscar Robertson, I accused him of having no sense of history. Certainly, we shouldn't allow our history to enslave us to flawed understanding and approaches in the church, but a lot of times, it takes a sense of history to truly understand the opportunities and challenges that are before us.

Memory helps us to hold things in perspective. It can serve to provide us with hope in the midst of despair (because we remember a similar challenge that we, a friend, or our congregation overcame). Memory is also a source of wisdom, oftentimes enabling us to see a situation in such a way that the benefits and dangers are on the table when a community decides how to proceed. Memory can also help us to appreciate what is happening in the present. If there is nothing to which we are comparing the present, it is hard to really know if things are going well or not. So, just like Wilbon said--let's be careful or a lack of memory might just lead to a situation that reaches out and reminds us, "just how dumb it is to forget."