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Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Book Discussion Week 3: The End of Memory by Miroslav Volf
This week we’re continuing the conversation about memory, forgiving and reconciliation discussed in Volf’s book. About the middle of the book, Volf moves toward what he considers the overarching theme that guides memory and the redemption of relationships. With that in mind, let’s begin today’s discussion.

Pages 87-92 – in this section, Volf begins talking about moving from the process of remembering to action based on memory. He discusses Tzvetan Todorov’s idea of exemplary memory, memory that moves toward action in that it learns from past wrongs and seeks justice in future similar situations

Volf believes the concept of exemplary memory is hollow. He states, “As a rule, it is not that we fail to draw lessons, but too often in a way that tramples justice underfoot and fans the fires of conflict rather than fighting injustice justly and promoting peace.” pg. 93

What are examples that you have seen where memory serves as a lesson that is applied to future situations? Have those lessons encouraged the fighting of injustice by promoting peace or by returning wrong for wrong?

Volf believes that in order to act justly, even in the face of wrong, sacred memory is necessary. For him, sacred memory is found in the meta-narrative of the redemption found in the Exodus and Passion stories. For Volf, sacred memory provides the space to understand ourselves, our community, our future and ultimately, God.

“Memories of these pivotal events from sacred history, I suggest, should serve as the broad framework that regulates how we remember wrongs suffered in our everyday lives.” pg. 94

Volf posits that redemption and love are the themes found in the Exodus and Passion stories, and when rightly understood, they change everything. There is one quote, in particular, that I would like to share.

“…the memory of the Exodus guards against the tendency to pursue healing at the expense of others. Even though God is the God of Israel, God is not a private deity to be placed at the service of particular interests; rather, God desires the flourishing of all peoples… We cannot consistently worship the God of Exodus while pursuing our own healing by oppressing or injuring others.” pg. 109

This quote challenges me. Often times I feel wronged and react to pursue my own health, to the detriment of others. But, like Jemila last week, I wonder how this forgiveness and right action really works in a broken world. Volf states earlier, “After all, suffering inflicted by others is an assault against the conviction that we live in a moral universe.” pg. 91

Living within the disappointment of a broken world, but resting in the hope of God’s love and redemption seems to be the crucial understanding. How have you seen that work out in circumstances you have been involved in? Is it difficult or easy for you to remember and act in light of God’s redemptive work through history and why? How would our actions as individuals and within our faith communities differ if we really understood that God desires the flourishing of all peoples?

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posted by Amy at 12:12 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 11/20/2007 12:44:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Kwon

    I tend to agree with Volf that exemplary memory is really less applicable than we think and often causes more harm. I think it can be more helpful to explore our own learning and focus on taking the plank out of our own eye rather than to seek to remember how another behaved wrongfully toward us in the past for the sake of avoiding the same thing in the future. We may successfully avoid the same FORM of what happened earlier, but the dynamic will probably still recur in a new form unless we take our own learning from it on a deeper level and allow God to make us whole, aware, solid, yet humble and grace-filled people and cultures.

  • At 11/20/2007 12:46:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Kwon

    Whether it's inner-city violence, perpetuated by a myth that getting revenge will honor the memory of the dead, or the middle east, or genocide in Africa, most of these conflicts are based on remembering (without forgiving) past wrongs.

  • At 11/20/2007 05:15:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    On page 79, Volf says (quoting in part David Kelsey, "When wrongdoing defines us, we take on 'distorted identities, frozen in time and closed to growth,' in Kelsey's words. In less severe cases, the wrongdoing may not define us fully; yet it lodges in our core self and casts a dark shadow on everything we think and do."

    It seems that on our own experiences results in this "dark shadow". When we allow God to make us whole, as you've said Jemila, then there is the ability to grow.


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