What To Do With Hurtful Memories

Grappling with the past is no small matter.

For some families, memories are the mortar that binds them together; for others, different interpretations act like the explosive C4, detonating at inappropriate times, inflicting severe collateral damage.

When my grandmother died, two of the three daughters never spoke to the third again. The memory of the unforgivable rift grew over time.

For our family, the issue has come to the fore as Caleb, our son, wrestles with his memories. Which events were profoundly life-changing? Which interpretations of events carry authority?

The spectrum of reaction within the family ranges from “How could we not know this?” to “I remember that, but I didn’t think it was that important.” Overlaid on our memories is the narrative of the First Nations in Canada - residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, the culture of racism.

In coming to grips with my history and that of my family, I have gained a more keen appreciation of what, traditionally, Christians call sin.

Although associated, in a knee-jerk way, with finger-pointing and the piling on of guilt, the concept of sin is a gift.

Primarily sin is a theological concept, not a moral evaluation.

Sin is much more nuanced than just doing a few bad things or the lack of self-esteem. The real power lies in naming its tractor beam force.

Like a bowling ball that has a bias and so can never roll on a straight and desired trajectory, sin draws us off centre.

Sin, at its core, is about the dishonouring of relationships.

Ironically, to recognize sin within ourselves does not necessarily mean we are bad people; it just means we are drawn to make our lives revolve around things other than those of which God dreams. Relationships tend to become skewed.

Reinhold Niebuhr, the great Christian ethicist, wrestled for years with the Rubik’s cube puzzle of how a group of well-intentioned, intelligent, informed people could often make stupid decisions. He did not confine his assessment to government or the church, although both qualify.

As I look in the rear view mirror on my life, sin is visible even if, at the time, I expertly explained it away. I have screwed up, made decisions based primarily on convenience or to minimize personal discomfort, acted inappropriately and not acted when I should. The list of specifics would fill a hard drive.

Our society prefers fantasy over reality. The concept of sin pushes us to give an honest account of reality, a necessary ingredient to moving forward.

Sin pushes us to give an honest account of reality, a necessary ingredient to moving forward.

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