Sunday, November 30, 2008

"We never did..."

It's holiday time! I now hear the Fiddler on the Roof song "Tradition" cuing up in my mind. I am a traditions gal. I love celebrating traditions!

A couple days before Halloween, my kids were practicing the song "Away in a Manger," which they will be singing in the Christmas pageant at church. I got down our creche as a visual aid to help them learn the words to the song. This is the creche my mother finally gave me after I begged her and begged her (if memory serves correctly). It was the creche she had when I was a kid, and I have many fond memories of looking at it and playing with it.

Just getting out my winter holiday boxes and going through them to find the creche filled me up with the stories of winters past. As I took out each item, I kept saying to G., "remember when..."

(Hey, remember that older SNL skit with the "remember when" guy. Yeah, that was funny.)

But this is an interesting time of year to study the way memory works. Memories are not straight-forward things. So many memories we carry are influenced by emotions and hindsite and the state of mind we are in when the event happens and then when we try to recall it.

My dad told me that he once took a class in which a professor asked everyone to recall their earliest memory. The professor then promptly informed them that in all probability, the memory was filled with complete inaccuracies.

Back when I took my first position as a religious educator, I heard many varied stories about my predecessors from the congregation I was serving. It is only now that I am beginning to understand the great number of which were likely not particularly accurate.

In the congregation I now serve, I am following the 25 year career of the religious educator before me. For 25 years she served the congregation in many different ways, through times of small programs and large, times of great activity and times of rest, times of trying new things and times of going with "the old standard." Different years called on different skills. There is only one thing I can be sure of, and that is that she wasn't the same religious educator in year 11 as she was in year 4, or in year 5 as she was in year 8. Of course she wasn't the same religious educator in year 25 as she was in year 1, but I am pretty sure she wasn't the same even in year 24 as she was in year 25.

I spent ten months functioning under the story that the congregation had never had a "Coming of Age" program (a rite of passage program for middle schoolers). That's the story I'd been given by multiple people on multiple occassions. In month eleven I discovered while sorting through old files that there had indeed been such a program for some stretch back in the 90s. Then suddenly when I mentioned it, several people said they remembered it clearly, but the stories of how it went varied wildly from what the actual written records.

This kind of thing happens all the time. "We've never done it like that before" is not only a line only a dying congregation uses, it is also a line used by a congregation that really probably wouldn't remember if it had been done like that before. Institutional memory only goes so far.

Heck, when I came to the congregation, I heard lots of stories about the religious educator before me not being a big fan of change. She'd run a very successful program one way for 25 years and wasn't interested in trying anything new. Then I get into my office and find a series of books on Godly Play in her closet-- that's a new methodology-- and I take her out to lunch and discover she had pushed to try Godly Play for some time but hit a wall.

So now its Christmas Pageant time, and I know that this time of year more than any I will hear, "But we've always done it this way," and "That's a new creative idea!" But I am going to assume that neither things are fully true, and try to listen more to the emotional undercurrent. Regarldess of how things were done in the past, those two statements translate (loosely) respectively into: "This is what I remember and treasure," and "I am tired of the same old thing and interested in getting out of perceived or real ruts!"


sf said...

Which, when you put it like that, are each really valid ways of looking at things.

Masasa said...

Yes, absolutely! I can relate to both sentiments entirely.