Posted by: Postordinandy | June 15, 2009

Dangerous Memories

The idea that the church in post-Christendom culture can learn from past exiles provides much food for thought. Mike Frost – drawing on Brueggemann again, points us to the idea of the exiled Israelites being encouraged to hold onto ‘dangerous memories’ in order to not simply survive, but thrive in a strange land.

These dangerous memories are hope-filled tales that live in the present, not nostalgic reminiscences of better times now past. To the exiled people in Babylon, the dangerous memories were stories of the great Exodus from Egypt – a time when God moved in power to rescue His people from captivity. To the contemporary church, the dangerous memories revolve around the stories of Christ as self-imposed exile – departing from the familiarity of residence with His Father and taking on the weak and limited form of a 1st Century Palestinian Jew. The dangerous stories that are our memories of Jesus should be the ones that gives us the hope of a better story yet to come.

These stories are not comfortable tales to help the Christian children get to sleep at night; instead they are subversive – promising that the way life is now is not the way it will be. And (this is important), they are not stories to help us get through life, to simply put up with physical existence thanks to the assurance of future glory; no, these stories call us to hope for a better ‘now’, as well as a better ‘when’. The exiles in Babylon believed that God would act in their time – we must also believe that he will act in ours. We don’t hope that he will take us back to an age where ‘middle-England Christianity’ once dominated, but to move us forward to an age where wider society can see glimpse of the Kingdom of God’s Rule, and respond accordingly. Our memories are dangerous because they both comfort and challenge us – giving us the hope and impetus we need to carry on serving God in sometimes confusing and uncertain times.

Interestingly, the prophet Jeremiah encouraged the exiles to “seek the prosperity of the city” in which they found themselves (Jeremiah chapter 29). The people were not to huddle together, protecting their identity at all costs. Instead they were to bless the other people around them – their captors – for by doing so they would also receive blessing. This has echoes of God’s call to Abraham – that God would bless his descendents, and that they in turn should bless others. The Jews in exile became Babylonian in culture but remained Jewish religiously, preserving the best of both inheritances.

This challenge is surely relevant to us now. Our recent Christendom-leaning cultural memories are that people will naturally drift to church, but this is no longer the case. Instead, we find ourselves increasingly in a culture that no longer instinctively supports or applauds a stance on faith, indeed, is often suspicious of the same. Our instinct may be to withdraw – to hope and pray for a turnaround in our fortunes, but instead we must also seek the prosperity and peace of our ‘adopted’ home.

Thankfully, the exile Jesus shows us how to live fully within a world that does not fully appreciate us, or applaud our faith-centred orientation. Like him, we should try to be:

  • Hopeful
  • Open
  • Inclusive
  • Challenging
  • Robust
  • Subversive
  • Justice-filled
  • Peaceful

We have powerfully dangerous memories, certain and clear recollections of the active God we serve, intervening within the lives and history of His creation. We need not fear the unknown…

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