George Orwell wrote, “Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” We are living in an age when those in control are blatantly rewriting history to pave the way for the return of open White Supremacy and authoritarian rule.
The Trump administration denies practicing a policy of immigrant family separation (while thousands of migrant children remain separated from their families for years). Conservative churches proclaim, “We have always welcomed LGBTQ people” (while condemning queer love and firing queer staff). KOMO tells us “Seattle is Dying” (while the city grows and crime slows). This gaslighting is part of a strategy of controlling the historical narrative.
The key for empires to successfully rewrite history is to induce mass amnesia. Those in power actively work to make us forget. So, in an age of amnesia, we must be just as active in the work of remembering. Much of the Bible was written under the shadow of empire. So it is no surprise that the word “remember” is used hundreds of times in scripture. Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna says that remembering in the biblical sense, “is not the retention or recollection of a mental image, but a focusing upon the object of memory that results in action.” Thus, to “remember the Sabbath,” (which is one of the Ten Commandments) is to tell the story that “we were slaves once and God liberated us!” and then to choose rest and harmony and liberation for ourselves and others.
The New Testament Greek word for “remember” is “anamnesis.” The root is “mnesis” meaning “memory.” The prefix “ana-“ means “back to” so anamnesis means returning to memory. (The prefix “a-“ means “not,” hence the word, “amnesia”). Returning to memory, is done by retelling, reliving and reenacting the past. On his last night, Jesus passed around bread and wine to the leaders of his revolutionary movement and told them to “do this in remembrance of me.” That is why churches tell stories and re-enact the last night when they practice communion.
In my church, we also “remember” another act of Jesus through re-enactment. We go to sites where injustice is taking place and turn over tables. Jesus did this just a few days before he was arrested and executed as an enemy of the state. Along with about 20 other churches and justice-focused organizations, we will be turning over tables in front of the ICE headquarters in Tukwila on “Table Turning Tuesday,” April 16 at noon.
It takes serious practice and disciplined repetition to remember when you are surrounded by propaganda and distractions designed to make you disbelieve what is inside you and to forget those who came before you. So may all of us who seek to live authentically and justly practice the art of subversive storytelling and radical remembrance.
Rev. John Helmiere is the convener of Valley & Mountain.
Read the full April 10 - 16 issue.
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