What do you remember? There are three main types of memory functions in our brains: Sensory, Short-term, and Long-term. Sensory memory fills up with what’s happening now. Short-term memory processes information for a few minutes longer. If we attribute importance to it and repeatedly access it, it becomes a working short-term memory. Information that has great value to us is kept indefinitely as Long-term memory. This is the “remembering” part of the brain that is encoded with meaning, smells, colors, and other sensory attributes. These memories can deeply affect our future behaviors and attitudes. Being aware of what we remember informs our future.
Memorial Day represents one day of personal (and national) awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. Our national “Remembering Day” emerged before the end of the Civil War when women who lost family and friends annually gathered to place flowers on the graves of those who had fallen in the service of their country. A hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" (Source: Duke University's Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920).
In what part of your brain’s memory is Memorial Day remembered? In what ways will your religious community participate in a gratitude-driven day of remembering?
Not only do individuals have memory, but so do communities and groups, and institutions and companies. Listening to each other’s “memories” and honoring the values attributed to them is a great way to build a sense of team-work, solidarity, and a spirit of humble gratitude.
But be careful. Deeply felt memories can be seductive and, though as familiar as a pair of comfy slippers, they can lock us in to debilitating sentimentality, fear, and pettiness. People gathering as congregations or teams can devolve into being more of a Memory Organization (stuck in the past) than growing into being an Imaginative Organization (co-creating a new future). There is no ministry from memory; memory is the past. But memories can inform new, creative, learning resulting in fresh ways of authentic, intentional, and effective ministry.
Many of our memories can enrich the lives of those around us as we embrace a hopeful future. Do you have a Memory Organization or an Imaginative Organization? Lead carefully as you honor the past and create a future of new possibilities.