Exclusive Walk Down Memory Lane Transforming Mission

Last week, Tim began a series, “Who Will Name Reality?” This week Sara continues exploring one of the three barriers to naming our current reality: nostalgia. 

Nostalgia

Let’s take a little walk. You may know this place well. But you haven’t experienced it like this before. From the corner of your eye, you catch the street name, Memory Lane. It’s a beautiful place. Everything is just like you remember it. The people – oh the people – they are happy, joy-filled, and most importantly focused on you.

You keep walking…

Until.

Until someone or something attempts to hijack your memory.

It happened to me earlier this week. It’s likely happened to you, too.

Memories…. (you hear the music in the background, right?)

Growing up, my family loved to watch the Muppet Show. Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and the Baker were mainstays in our family room. When Statler and Waldorf offered their cantankerous opinions from the balcony, the show was even better.

During my first appointment, I served as a Youth Pastor at Mason UMC. We had a Kermit the Frog that joined us for Bible Study and youth retreats. He traveled with us on our annual Summer Missions Trip. Kermit wore a size 2T. How do I know? He had different outfits for every experience. His closet that remained secret stored his tool belt and backpack. I loved Kermit in his navy blue hoodie.

Do you get the picture? I love Kermit the Frog. He holds together some pretty amazing memories of family, friendship, and witnessing youth encounter the love of God. I can’t see Kermit without thinking about the adult leaders who shared God’s love in beautiful ways. Kermit the Frog could probably tell you more about my life and ministry than any person.

Kermit the Frog Gets a New Voice?!?

But this week someone messed with my memories. The Muppets Studio announced this week that Kermit was getting a new voice.

What?

You can’t replace the voice of Kermit the Frog.

There is only ONE voice that says, “Hello, Kermit the Frog here…”

Have Our Memories Become the Object of Our Focus?

Something tells me a couple things are going on in your mind at this moment.

  1. You may be wondering, “Has Sara lost her mind?”  I promise I’m of sound mind.  Just having a little fun 😉
  2. Or, you know the voice of Kermit as well as I do and “heard” Kermit the Frog talking, too.

If you joined me in the memory of Kermit’s voice, you’re participating in one of the beautiful acts of humanity: remembering. We recall memories to give meaning to today.

When a memory becomes the object of our attention, we risk losing sight of the subject. Memories are a vehicle that helps us recall what is important. But memories are not an exclusive walk down memory lane.

Kermit an exclusive walk down memory lane transforming mission

It’s a bit like this beautiful picture one of the youth, Nicole, (who now serves as the Youth Director at Mason UMC. Thank you Nicole.) sent me when I asked who had pictures of Kermit on social media. You see, this was before Facebook and iPhones and I didn’t have easy access to pictures.

Do you see what Kermit is holding?

  • He’s holding onto memories of my time as a youth pastor.
  • Kermit is pretending to drive the car that took us to Rockford, IL when our missions trip was canceled less than 24 hours before we were to depart to Florida.
  • He is joining several of the high school seniors by the campfire at a fall retreat. If only I could remember the name of the camp!
  • Kermit is kicking his heel at a picture Paul, a teen and amazing youth talent show host who died far too young after a courageous battle with Leukemia.
  • I can feel the hot sun beating down on Kermit in the arms of the interns we met serving in Juarez, Mexico.
  • He’s front and center of a group heading off on retreat
  • Kermit is in his Reelfoot T-Shirt embraced by Jonathan and the yarn ball. Oh the yarn ball!
  • And all the while Nana B, Kermit’s caregiver, is peeking her eyes watching over us as she always did.

The Crossroads of Nostalgia

Exclusive Walk Down Memory Lane Transforming Mission

That’s Kermit on the beach in Toronto! What do you mean you can’t see Kermit?

As my litany of memories droned on…you tuned out.

But, a smile came to my face and a tear to my eyes.

Those were precious times. Beautiful God moments. Heart-wrenching life moments.

If I continued down this path of unrestrained nostalgia, I may have risked telling Nicole how she should be leading the middle school youth who are serving this week in Nashville, TN. I may have wondered why they were serving in Nashville? We’d never served in that city. I may have even questioned why the paint in the youth room is no longer that insane blue we chose.

Instead, I give God thanks for the blessings of yesterday, the lessons learned, and the way he blessed me with amazing teenagers and adults. These adults first showed me how to keep Jesus at the center of laughter, life, and love. I prayed for the middle schoolers Nicole is leading this week and the people they serve with in ministry. I prayed for the Spirit to move in the lives of these parents, spouses, and friends. For a moment, I wondered where a couple of them are…has that engagement finally happened? I prayed for the cities they live in, the guests at the high-end restaurant where they serve, the government agency they represent, the schools where they lead, and the care centers where they offer therapy. And I prayed that their children may experience the love of Jesus, the church, and their love for Jesus.

Confession Time

My Kermit example, while silly, is true. As the day played out I could have poked the fire of my discontent with change, creating a blazing fire around the change I didn’t like. I could have started rallying others behind my memory of Kermit, the voice I have known for 27 years. It would have served little purpose. While I remain grateful for Steve Whitmire, the voice actor for Kermit, I need to tell you something.

Confession #1

I didn’t know there was only one voice to Kermit the Frog. If you had asked me I would have said there are a group of very talented voice actors who bring Kermit to life.

Confession #2

I didn’t know Steve Whitmire was the second voice for Kermit. Jim Henson was the first.

Confession #3

The visceral, emotional reaction I had to a frog puppet (sorry Kermit) getting a new voice caught me off guard.

Confession #4

I don’t like when someone else messes with my memories. Who does?

Confession #5

I didn’t ask for that picture of Kermit. I asked for a picture of Kermit. How easy it is to take an exclusive walk down memory lane.

When Nostalgia Hijacks Our Mission

You see how this could play out, don’t you? When what we don’t know, gets mixed with emotions, our memories move to a place of prominence and displace our purpose. Our purpose, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” means our focus is on Jesus.

Memories, placed in perspective allowed me to have a little fun this week remembering. But more importantly, it reminded me that unrestrained nostalgia can easily turn the church into an exclusive club.

There are other lessons that can go unnoticed along Memory Lane:

-Is there unrestrained energy being put in the preservation of my memory? Is that energy greater than the focus on Jesus and the church’s purpose?

-Do I understand the emotional response? Have I given the emotions time to breathe?

-Have the memories of our congregation hijacked the mission of the church?

-Are these irrational desires to preserve the past? What can the memory look like today? (Think about the telephone, first cell phone, and smartphone of today. What will tomorrow’s phone look like?)

These are just some of the effects of unrestrained nostalgia. When we continue to allow these behaviors to snowball it impedes the ability of new people to participate in the church’s ministry. The impact unfolds in our churches, holding us hostage to the past.

Dead End or Turning Point?

So here’s the bad news: An exclusive walk down memory lane leads the church to a dead end. Ready for the good news? You have the power, vision, and wisdom to recognize we are at a crossroads. Identify the intersections of faith and culture and fulfill our purpose in life-giving ways. Yes, there will be turning points. Take them. Explore them. Just don’t stay there.

Perhaps today is the day to begin naming the memories for what they are: beautiful testaments to our lives. Just as we remember as we gather at the Table for Holy Communion, we recall the mighty acts of God. When we do so, we remember not for the sake of yesterday, but in calling forth the Spirit-filled presence to today.

The current reality we face is this: one of the greatest gifts you could offer to someone is an invitation into a relationship with Jesus. When you do, you just might experience again for the first time the mighty acts of God. Because when we say, “Do this is in remembrance of Me” we are inviting people into the expanding, unfolding grace of God, not an exclusive club.

So let it be.

-Sara Thomas

 

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