I can clearly remember the first time I ever heard the vocalist and songwriter John Gorka.
It was a song called “Houses In The Fields” and I remember the video vividly. Gorka talks of the decline of farming in the United States, how all the farmers had been bought out and replaced by subdivisions with grand magisterial names.
I remember Gorka's voice, sounding like the kind of voice that would come out of a person who is hewing wood from fallen trees, or shoveling great heaps of earth into or out of a giant hole. A man working with his hands.
But I also remember John Gorka because of my father.
My dad has always had a love for songwriters whether it was Dan Folgelberg in the old days, or John Gorka in the new.
I remember my relationship with my dad as it used to be, not as it is today.
It's different now. We aren't always our best when we're together.
We're not often together.
And yet there something about that song that draws me to think about all my relationships, the contours of my story thus far. To remember.
We always evoke life when we remember.
When we think back about what has gone on, we grieve what's lost but we celebrate what we have and had as a result of that memory.
We begin to see the great fabric of what our lives are supposed to be. Our lives are sustained by history because history makes us who we are.
Good bad or otherwise.
Without a history, without memories, we struggle to realize who we are or where we’re going.
Even the memory of a better relationship that has now fallen on hard times, it's still a memory worth having. It is still saturated the goodness and grace of God extends to each of us.
That's why to me it is no accident that God uses the word and the activity of “remember” when he's trying to build the foundation of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.
If we have no history we do not know who we are or where we're going. So every time I hear John Gorka’s voice I hear God saying, remember that I brought you out of Egypt.
When I hear the song I remember my father – I remember the good times and I remember the difficult times.
Memories are not just adornments or baubles that we attach to our story, no they are gears - they are the pistons that fire the formation of our true selves on whatever trajectory we happen to find ourselves.
While it's important to remember, and sometimes it’s important to forget, it is equally as important to know how not to forget.
Not that we remember with bitterness or vengeance, but that we remember with an eye towards why the past matters.
Why it matters that there used to be more farms that houses.
Why it matters that we used to have relationships that we don't.
Why it matters that God has always been present, regardless of whether we are stuck in the valley or climbing the hill side.
Our past is an illustrated story of the presence and work of the Divine.
So now John Gorka goes with me singing about houses in the field between the towns/and the Starlite drive-in movie is closing down.
He talks about the fact that it's a sign I’m getting on in years/that nothing new is welcome to these eyes and ears.
It's because he remembers a different time - maybe you remember a different time today?
What matters most is that you remember in the past, in the present, and the future there's a God passionately leaning in to whatever story we may want to tell. Our past failures may be redeemed for future blessings, even as we grieve that things are not – nor every will be – the same again.
May we always remember, may we never forget, may we learn to remember as God remembers.