Whee! We! Wee! All the Way Home:
Forgetting and Remembering

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached July 24, 2011 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Numbers 11:1-20: "We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost ..."
Luke 22:14-23: "Do this in remembrance of me."
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Tonight's opening song was the fifth single released from Bruce Springsteen's 1984 album "Born in the U.S.A." The first verse recounts a real life event when Bruce met up with his former Little League baseball teammate Joe DePugh in the summer of 1973. The song is called "Glory Days." Let's try it.

[Verse] I had a friend was a big baseball player
back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
but all he kept talking about was

[Chorus] Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days

I can't say that I remember high school with any fondness - but one of my "glory days" memories of that time does, like Springsteen sings, involve baseball. Now, I was a scrawny kid who always got picked last whenever we had to choose teams in PE. This usually only happened to me during athletic events. In social studies, you wanted to be on my trivia team, because we always won. That's what being a bookworm and news junkie gets you - victory at trivia, not in sports!

Anyway, I was always picked last for sports teams until that fateful day that they took us out to the football field and had us choose sides for a game of baseball. (The high school didn't have a baseball diamond, if you were wondering!) As usual, I was chosen last with a heavy sigh from the team captain, "Fine, we'll take Candace."

The game went on without incident until I was out in left field and one of the guys on the other team decided to call me out. He pointed at me and said, "I'm hitting it to Chellew. I know she can't catch it."

And he did. He popped a screaming line drive down the third base line and I was on my horse, running with everything I had at that ball. I'm not sure how it happened but as I ran headlong for the concrete bleachers, I put my glove out and "Bam!" I caught the ball and executed a perfect roll to avoid the bleachers.

The batter, who was just walking to first base because he figured he had a triple, if not a home run, if I missed it, stopped dead in his tracks. "What?" he yelled. "I can't believe she caught that ball."

I smiled and tipped my cap as I casually threw the ball back to the pitcher. No big deal, nothing to see here, move on. I was smugly triumphant.

Later in that same game, I was at bat and had worked myself into a 3-2 pitch. The next pitch would decide my fate. I gritted my teeth and settled into the batter's box for the pitch and it was right where I like 'em, low and outside. I swung with everything my scrawny body could muster and watched that ball fly beautifully over the head of the stunned center fielder - a big guy who got a week's worth of exercise chasing the ball down at the other end of the football field. A home run! The crowd went wild!

And I was never chosen last for baseball again.

The secret my classmates didn't know is that I played baseball almost every single day when I was not at school. You see I had a boyfriend who was a baseball fanatic, and I was just coming to terms with my sexual orientation. I loved my boyfriend - but not that way. So, since I was a good Southern Baptist girl, I told him that we couldn't have sex before marriage - so instead, we played a lot of baseball. I mean, a lot of baseball.

I look back on that memory and if I replay that memory enough I can actually convince myself that high school wasn't all that bad. I can get myself to forget about all the bullying I endured, all the shunning and name calling I endured. I can get myself to forget about all the shame I accumulated as a poor kid, growing up in the projects, never running with the in-crowd, and on top of that, feeling shamed for being so different sexually than my peers - and feeling like I was the only one going through it.

If I reflect long enough on that glorious day of triumph playing baseball - and other moments where I wowed a bunch of people who thought I was the biggest loser on the planet - I can almost believe my high school experience was a good one.

Almost. This is the power of forgetting, and remembering.

[Verse] Well there's a girl that lives up the block
back in school she could turn all the boy's heads
Sometimes on a Friday I'll stop by
and have a few drinks after she put her kids to bed
Her and her husband Bobby well they split up
I guess it's two years gone by now
We just sit around talking about the old times,
she says when she feels like crying
she starts laughing thinking about

[Chorus] Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days

In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures tonight, we find the Israelites wandering in the desert with Moses. They've been freed from their bondage in Egypt and are making that long, slow journey to the promised land. They're tired, they're frustrated. Their journey has been long and seems endless. So, like all humans, they start to complain and talk about how things were better back in their slave days.

"If only we had meat to eat!" they start to wail. "We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at."

Nothing but manna - nothing but lifesaving manna from heaven. I can imagine the Holy shaking her head at this bunch of ingrates. God leads them out of slavery only to have them reminisce about how great it was to be in slavery. "Sure, we were treated poorly and worked ourselves to death for Pharaoh, but, man, the food was delicious! Wish we were back there again instead of getting all this crappy food from God!"

Already, in their hunger, they have forgotten the hardships of their captivity. They have forgotten the abuse they suffered, the freedom they lacked, the cries they made to be free. All forgotten, as soon as their bellies were empty or they tired of the same food day in and day out.

How many times have we complained about our present situation, longing for the past, believing that things were better back then - even if they weren't? How often do we complain while we are in our own wilderness - on the way to our promised land of ecstasy - that we were better off in bondage?

How often do we get nostalgic about the past, forgetting the bad things and focusing only on what we believed to be good? How often do we flee from the ecstasies of today to try and relive those we experienced years, or even just days, ago?

Instead of relishing the freedom that the Holy had granted them - even in the midst of the wilderness - our Hebrew ancestors complained, and grew nostalgic for the fish they ate in bondage. They believed the meat they ate there cost them nothing, but it cost them everything - it cost them their freedom. It cost them their ability to delight in the world - to go Whee! We! Wee! all the way home. They may have had all the meat they could eat, but they had no true joy in their world - no true Whee! that comes with freedom from bondage.

God promises to make them sick with their nostalgia, for their forgetting just how terrible their past really was - for not appreciating the present moment - for not remembering just how far the Holy has led them toward real freedom.

We anger the Holy when we forget how far we've come. We anger the Holy when we look back at the past through rose colored glasses, longing to return to bondage when the struggle for our freedom becomes difficult and uncomfortable.

Instead of longing for our glory days, the Holy continually calls us to the present, to enjoy the "Whee!" of right now. It's okay to look back fondly, but if we get stuck in those in the past, we'll never reach the promised land of this present moment. We'll keep spinning our wheels, telling boring stories of our own glory days.

Breathe deeply.

[Verse] Now I think I'm going down to the well tonight
and I'm going to drink till I get my fill
And I hope when I get older
I don't sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing, mister, but
boring stories of glory days

[Chorus] Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it - or the old saying goes, anyway. And, it's true. We forget lessons in our past at our own peril. Doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again unless we learn from them and move on.

Forgetting is important, too. That's also how we move on in this life - letting bygones be bygones - forgiving those who have trespassed against us. Unless we can forget, we cannot keep moving forward. We'll forever be lost in a wilderness of resent, pain, and regret.

Remembering and forgetting - forgetting and remembering - a life in balance contains both - remembering ecstasies and despairs, remembering joy and sadness, remembering triumphs and defeats. Forgetting slights and insults. Forgetting put downs and shame. Forgetting our fears and our anxiety. Forgetting ourselves in the ecstasies of life and remembering to say: "Whee! Wee! We!" All the Way Home.

Breathe deeply.

Our second song comes from singer and actress Madonna. Trivia time, what is her real name? Yes, it is Madonna - but her full name is Madonna Louise Ciccone (chee-co-nee). She was born in Bay City, Michigan in 1958 and originally planned to be a modern dancer. Instead, she became a singer and released her debut album in 1983.

Since then she has sold more than 300 million records and is recognized as the world's top-selling female recording artist of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records.

She's had many hits like Material Girl, Like a Virgin, and others. Tonight's song hit number 2 on the charts in 1994 and was the theme song for a movie called "With Honors" starring Joe Pesci and Brenden Fraser. It's called "I'll Remember." Let's try it.

[Verse] Say good-bye to not knowing when
The truth in my whole life began
Say good-bye to not knowing how to cry
You taught me that

[Chorus:] And I'll remember the strength that you gave me
Now that I'm standing on my own
I'll remember the way that you saved me
I'll remember

In our Jesus story, we find our guy sitting down to supper with his disciples - but this is no ordinary supper - it's Passover - and it's the last meal Jesus will enjoy with his disciples. That night he'll be arrested and handed over to the Roman authorities as a traitor to the state.

But, on this night, Jesus' main concern is remembering - and forgetting. At this last supper he reminds his disciples to remember to be thankful at all times. As he took the glass of wine and lifted it off the table before them - he gave thanks. He did the same thing as he took the bread and broke it. He gave thanks for it before passing it around. Even in a time of trial and stress, Jesus remembers, and reminds us - to always give thanks. So, when we hear his words: "Do this in remembrance of me," our first impulse should be to give thanks - and remember the fruitfulness of all creation - a creation that remembers us with its bounty of bread and wine - and a Creator that never forgets us.

Jesus also takes time at this meal to warn them of their pending forgetfulness. Someone will betray him. Someone will forget everything they have learned - everything about Jesus that has touched them in some way throughout this ministry - and turn him over to the authorities. Forgetting can be dangerous - people die when we forget, people get betrayed when we forget - but it is in that act of forgetting that we remember the unending gift of love Jesus gave us in his life and death.

Remembering and forgetting - this is the stuff of life and death.

Breathe deeply.

We turn this last meal into nostalgia at our own peril - and much of the church has fallen into this trap - romanticizing this meal - reducing it to what Matthew Fox calls "an unspiritual and literal, a forgotten, event. A man urges us to spiritual memory, and we reduce his words and actions to nostalgia. Urged to participation, we make rules, prescribe sanctions, and kill a possibly living memory."

This is what churches do when they put requirements around this table - when they tell people they can't participate in this meal unless they believe a certain way, accept certain doctrines, or belong to the right church. Some churches refuse to give communion to those who support a woman's right to choose, or those who are gay or lesbian, or those who don't have their doctrines just right. In this moment we become like the disciples - forgetting the essence of Jesus message to make sure we remember the mechanical details of what happened - who sat where, how the bread and wine were arranged on the table. We remember the details, but forget the meaning.

This was not Jesus' intent with this meal - it was a meal to unify us, to bring us together, to remember this incredible love that went to its death rather than sell out, that let itself be killed rather than transform into the evil power of hatred. This meal is a celebration - in this meal we share a common memory - of release from captivity to anything that separates us from the Holy. "All become one again," Fox writes. "The past is present; the present past; the future forgotten yet here." Breathe deeply.

[Verse] Inside I was a child,
That could not mend a broken wing
Outside I looked for a way,
To teach my heart to sing

[Chorus:] And I'll remember the love that you gave me
Now that I'm standing on my own
I'll remember the way that you changed me
I'll remember

Reminiscing about the past isn't a bad thing. Often it's a joyful way to spend time, reliving moments of ecstasy that we've experienced in the past. In fact, our past can become a powerful tool in our present if we approach it in the right way.

Instead of reflecting on my triumph on the baseball field that day as a way to escape now - I can use that memory to empower my present - an ecstasy to remember. I can think back the delicious feeling of the ball hitting my glove, or the ball smacking into that sweet spot on the bat, and remind myself that I am more powerful than my shame, I am more powerful than any situation that threatens to overwhelm me in the here and now. Because of my past victories, I know that I can have present, and future victories.

This is how the Jewish people of today remember that journey in the wilderness. They celebrate it in a feast called the Passover. They remember their bitter complaints made on their journey by eating bitter herbs and unleavened bread for seven days to experience that blandness of manna. On the night of the Passover Seder - which was the night of the last supper - the children ask four questions including: "On all other nights, we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight, we eat only bitter herbs?" This recalls the complaint in the desert - reminding them of how they longed for the captivity of Egypt so they could enjoy meat and vegetables again.

This is a powerful reminder of the past, and how it can empower the present with a new spirit of life, a spirit of freedom, a spirit of ecstasy - that Whee! of life.

The last supper, too, is a reminder that one of the best memories we have is that of collective memory - that history that binds us as humans, as cultures, and communities. We forget one another at our own peril, because none of us are free from bondage until all of us are free from whatever keeps us from being fully alive. We celebrate these common memories will festivals like Independence Day, Christmas and other religious festivals, New Year's , family reunions, folk and tribal dances. These memories are the "we-ness" of life - reminders that we cannot forget to come together - reminders that there is strength and wisdom in community.

In two simple gestures, - two "wee" elements - Jesus makes all this clear to us. In the breaking of the bread and the passing of the wine Jesus calls us to forget ourselves - to forget our pains and petty concerns, and remember the ecstasy of God's amazing love that if truly embraced will save us all.

Bread and wine - wee gestures that call us to remember life's ecstasies, and to remember our life together. This table is an invitation to go "Whee! Wee! We!" All the Way Home.

[Chorus:] And I'll remember the love that you gave me
Now that I'm standing on my own
I'll remember the way that you changed me
I'll remember

[Bridge] I learned to let go of the illusion that we can possess
I learned to let go, I travel in stillness,
And I'll remember happiness
I'll remember (I'll remember),
Mmmmm... (I'll remember) Mmmmm...

[Chorus:] And I'll remember the love that you gave me
Now that I'm standing on my own
I'll remember the way that you changed me
I'll remember

[Ending:] No I've never been afraid to cry,
Now I finally have a reason why I'll remember (I'll remember)

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

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