The Danger in Nostalgia

     There is nostalgia in egg salad for me. As a girl, my small church would have linger-longers on occasion, where we would, well, linger longer after the Sunday night church services over finger foods and lemonade. It was here that I developed a love for egg salad.
     I get the same sense of nostalgia for the church of my childhood, when I eat lemon sandwich cookies. My preschool Sunday school teacher would bring them each week as a snack, and even just the scent of them brings me back to those small plastic chairs.
      There are many things that trigger nostalgia for me (apparently many pertaining to food), frozen cokes from the Meijer gas station, the cool crisp air combined with high school football stadium lights, the smell of apple cider, reading "the Chronicles of Narnia", hearing Amy Grant or Michael W Smith on the radio, the smell of freshly milled grain, the feel of Lake Michigan sand under my feet, and the way it sounds after a heavy snowfall. These moments take me back to my childhood, to fond memories, and happy events.
     I have fond memories of God too. Memories of praying at altars in my church, of church camps with PR bands from the denominational college, and of revival speakers with passion. I remember testimony time on Sunday nights in my little church, and the stories that the old women would tell, and think how someday I wanted to be able to share those same type of stories.
         At times I would love to transport myself back there, to curl up in the safety and security that those times seemed to bring me. The smells of childhood Christmas and having all of my family together again, is a memory I would like to transport myself into. If I could wake up just one more time on a Saturday morning in my Little Foot pajamas and smell my moms biscuits and gravy, and have all my siblings at home, I would probably do it in a heartbeat,
           In recent days there has been a cultural push to "go back", and I understand why, but there is a danger in living in nostalgia. Nostalgia often remembers the warm feelings of our youth at the expense of the bigger picture, and it leads us to a discontentment for where we are now.
      My mom told me a story about how when she was a child there were nights where they had popcorn for dinner. This is a fond memory for her, a nostalgic memory, because having popcorn for dinner was a great treat. Looking back now she realizes that at the time, that was all her parents could afford to feed them. What is a nostalgic memory for her, would be (if my grandparents were still alive) a very stressful and heart wrenching memory for them. No one wants to only feed their children popcorn. Trying to go back to that nostalgic moment, while seemingly warm and cozy, misses the bigger picture of what is going on. A child can not live on popcorn alone, and parents that can only provide that feel desperate and scared.
        This weekend the movie "Loving" will be released. It is about when, just a short time ago, interracial marriage was legalized. A nostalgia for a past prior to this misses the reality that my marriage wouldn't be legal. A nostalgia for a past where prayer was a legal part of the school day, misses out on the children not allowed to be in school with children who looked different or believed different than them. A nostalgia for a past where we had a job, misses the bigger picture that while things might have been great for us, they weren't for everyone. A nostalgia for a past where we were raised by a stay at home mom, might miss the bigger picture that she had other dreams she wanted to fulfill, but wasn't empowered to do so.
       There is always a bigger picture in the midst of our nostalgic dreams, and if we aren't careful, we can get so caught up in those memories that our entire lives are consumed by them. In the midst of being consumed by our longing for a past that only existed for us, we are completely missing out on the present. If we are constantly trying to go back to how things used to be, we do a disservice to ourselves and the people around us in the present.
       We are missing out on creating new memories, on creating new movements of justice, on trying new foods, and visiting new places.
       If my nostalgia trapped me in the world of egg salad and lemon cookies, I never would have discovered how much I love to bake pies, or scones. I never would have learned how much I love lobster rolls and sushi. I would be missing out on the beauty of the now, the beauty of my every day moments. The smells, the sounds, the tastes, the sights, that are all around me.
       But our nostalgia is not limited to childhood food and memories, this desire for a nostalgic past is present in our spirituality as well.  In our churches, in our faith communities and denominations we can get so caught up in the nostalgic ways that the Holy Spirit has moved in the past, that we forget to see where the Holy Spirit is moving now. We become a bit like Lots wife, longing so much to look backwards, that if we aren't careful we will become a pillar of salt.
      My childhood is filled with tremendous memories of how God moved in my past, that's why I have such nostalgia when I think of my childhood church, and the people who were there. However, to try to go back to that, would rob my congregation of those same type of memories. It would rob them of movements of God that are happening now. Celebrating and recognizing the ways that God is at work now, as different as that may look from my childhood, does not diminish what God did in the past. However, being so consumed by the past that I can't see where God is working now, robs me and others of the kingdom of God in our midst.
        It is right and good to remember the ways God was faithful, what God has done, and the ways God has moved, but God is not in the past. God is the I AM, and is present now. If we are too busy looking backwards, we will miss the I AM in the now. We will miss the ways that God is speaking, that God is moving, that God is raising up and calling people. This might look very different than the cozy safe memories of childhood, but at some point we must grow up out of childhood in order to pass on the faith to those who come after us.
      Where is the I AM now? I sense that presence of God every time I receive the Eucharist, a moment of remembrance that doesn't push me into nostalgia, but a grace that is present with me in that moment, and then sends me out into the world in peace. I see the I AM when a 3 year old embraces my mother in law at church on a Sunday morning and calls her grandma, despite no blood relationship. The Holy Spirit is moving in the hard questions of my friends, who are finding a renewed sense of hope in faith. The I AM is at work when justice is done in the name of love.
       It is important to remember, but we must not allow our remembrances to become an idol to move to a nostalgic past, disregarding the larger picture. We must also remember that it is the present in which we live, and that we serve a God that is ever present with us. The past has it's place, but it's the present that is here. We must embrace it. We must celebrate it. We must be present, because this is the only time we have, and the I AM is here too, in our midst, bringing the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Are we present enough to see it?

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 3, 2016. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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