From the editor: May 8, 2015
Memories & Mothers
It surprises most people when I tell them that I have memories of the Great Depression. I don't look that old! Indeed, I was born after World War II. But I had a childhood within a large extended family. I was born while my parents and two siblings were living in my grandparents' house in Detroit. Next door lived my grandmother's sister and her family. Two doors down on lived my grandmother's brother and family.
Without picking up the Scot's brogue that surrounded me, I learned language in part through listening to the conversations of the adults, and those conversations told and retold many stories from the Old Country and from the more recent years in Detroit.
I have seen many old photographs of family picnics (Scots love picnics); weddings; parties. Through these photos and the repeated stories-usually told in the company of other witnesses with their own comments and reactions to the familiar but memorable vignettes of a sprawling family life in turns comedic, tragic, instructive, hortatory--I hold memories of life before my life. For I was formed in part by the words and the character of speakers rooted in a time and place before I was born.
I can still see the halo of the corner streetlamp on a warm summer evening where my mom and dad first met in the Great Depression as young teens playing summer games with other neighborhood children. I know the corner. I played there myself, just across the way, tossing a football to cousins.
But there is something more to ponder. I could receive information as just information about another family by discovering a box of old photographs along with a notebook containing family stories. But it wouldn't be the same. The memories I have were delivered person to person, face to face. Along with the words and the pictures I was internally impressed by the personal presence of those who were there, who not only saw and remembered, but experienced in their own souls the event. Their experience of a tragedy, for example, shaped them and their telling of it, in turn affecting me, shaping me.
I have thought how much of that personal element is at play in the life of the Christian Church. There are hints of this dynamic in the New Testament (1 John 1:1-4; Acts 4:13-they had "been with Jesus"). Hebrews opens declaring how God spoke through his Son-it was not merely a channel for the divine Word (otherwise send a prophet) but the Person was the message. The writings of the early Church are reflections of and ripples from a transformative personal experience of the Triune God, face to face in Jesus. I so, I remember Good Friday, even if I was not physically present.
If we lose such memory, we lose ourselves (true of a culture ... and of a church).
Perhaps it is because my grandfather died when I was four and my grandmother and her three daughters comprised the regular Sunday circle of conversation that most of the stories I heard were told to me by women. Still, I suspect women pass on most of family histories. My mother, now 92, is the last remaining family member of her family born in the Old Country. She still tells the stories, and sometimes ones I'd never heard. Thanks, Mom, for the memories.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James