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Jul  2014 11
When It's Better to Forget

Sometimes forgetting from one generation to another is good. Sometimes it is good simply to move on to a better place.

Last Sunday, the choir where I worship sang a rousing version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. As the choir was reaching the conclusion, several members of the congregation had already risen and were standing at attention. When the choir finished, the congregation nearly leapt to its feet—applauding, cheering and wiping away tears.

Now, you need to know two things about this congregation. The first is that, while it is not the least demonstrative congregation out there, it is not nearly the most, either! The service is telecast on a local TV station, and I’ve watched at home. I’ve seen the congregation’s faces on camera. “Demonstrative” would not be my description of what I see. I loved the response this time, and wish we’d be more enthusiastic and expressive. But their emotion-steeped bodily response to the performance of the Battle Hymn of the Republic is not typical.

The atypical response is all-the-more remarkable for a second reason. This congregation was founded as a congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. I don’t have the roster of members from the 1890s when the congregation was established, or the 1920s when the present magnificent building was built. But it is safe to assume that some members in the 1890s fought for the South in the “War of Northern Aggression.” If those Confederate soldiers and southern-way-of-life advocates heard and saw what I heard and saw last Sunday morning, with the congregation moved to tears and a kind of rapture by the “Battle Hymn of the North,” I can imagine them rolling over in their graves.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was writing a dissertation on the ecumenical movement, some ecumenists lamented that younger people did not care about ecumenism. Right. They did not understand the divisions, they did not understand the present hostilities or indifferences. In order to help younger people understand, we’d need to teach them the history of division. And most of younger generations do not care about the history or the divisions. The older generations feared unity without doing the work of healing the divisions, which also meant coming out “with the right answer” to all the purity and authority battles. The younger generations did not care to know the history or engage the battles but wanted to move on.

Sometime forgetting from one generation to another is good. Not all the time. But sometimes, yes.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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