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Is nostalgia overrated?

By Charles Qualls

Most every morning after breakfast, my wife and I will normally check our Memories section on Facebook. It’s fun to look back and see what happened a year ago, and many more, on that particular day. Photos stream back in, along with recollections that we laugh or talk about. We enjoy that.

On June 13, 2007, Elizabeth surprised me. She met me after work and drove us to the northern suburbs of our city. We went to Waller Park, a little league baseball field I had played on 30 years before. On that date I pitched a no-hitter against the Cubs of our Roswell little league. I still have the game ball, signed by all my teammates and coaches. I also have the newspaper article.

The date still mattered to me, but really to no one else. That game would turn out to be the centerpiece of a pretty good three-game stretch. In those consecutive games I pitched a one-hitter, the no-hitter and then went out and pitched another one-hitter. Someone asked me years later, having heard about that stretch of games and the years when I was a pretty good pitcher, “What happened? Why didn’t you end up doing this in college or professionally?”

The answer is pretty simple isn’t it: adolescence is the great equalizer in all of sports. Everybody else got better and I didn’t. Everybody else stayed healthy, while I had full-blown shoulder problems by the age of 15. I was done.

Memories are important. God would tell the Hebrew people to remember or to commemorate certain things. Importantly, we Christians are instructed to take up the Lord’s Supper or Communion and to do so, “In remembrance of me.” Sometimes, by their own choices or by God’s instruction, the people would build an altar or an “Ebeneezer” to commemorate a certain happening that was central to their history with God.

We are supposed to remember things. That much is clear. But memories come with a caution in Exodus 17: 1-7. Notice that the Hebrew people were longing for the days of their enslavement as they got thirsty and hungry out in the wilderness. The terrible oppression, injustice, unfairness and inhumanity of their enslavement was beckoning them backward as Moses was trying to lead them forward. Some odd and terrible things can become normal if we let them. Then, the change needed to move forward suddenly seems unpalatable.

If we become imprisoned in the memory of our past days, we can’t fully appreciate the present. We are robbed of our gratitude for what is, if all we can do is look back at what was. You ever wonder why Lot and his wife were cautioned against even looking back at the city of Sodom in Genesis? As she did, his wife was turned to a pillar of salt. Fun as memories are, too much looking back can be bad for us.

God never has created humanity to live in the past. No matter how legitimately good things were, and no matter how much they really have changed. No matter what we may have lost or no matter how different things may be now. God has never created humanity to live in the past.

The Israelites revolted and almost stoned Moses and Aaron to death — the people God sent to save them, deliver and liberate them — because all they could do was look back to the days of their enslavement with nostalgia.

History has an important place. Don’t miss my point. I lament that as schools reduce requirements for the seminary degree, Church History is one of the things they say is no longer essential. We have to know the past. We have to learn from the past, both the empowering lessons and the cautionary tales. We’ll have a 150th anniversary at our church next year. We should celebrate it robustly and proudly. 150 years in anything is remarkable.

Our instruction to remember is always so that we have a base, a historic reference point, as we move forward. When we stop where we used to be, and refuse to live in the present, we cheat ourselves and everyone around us of what could be. If all we can think of is the way things used to be, we miss what’s all around us now. What’s all around us now might also be pretty good. But if we can’t accept anything except our memories, our present will probably fail to measure up every time.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.