The stories that we tell about ourselves, asindividuals and as communities, shape who we are. Sometimes the memoriesthat are strung together to create those stories are crystal clear. At othertimes, they are hazy or have, through the passage of time, added a gloss or araggedness to them.
I found myself reflecting onmemory and story as I visited the tourism sector in Dudley. When Imention to people that I live in Dudley, a frequent response is, Ah, I went tothe zoo as a child. The Dudley Zoo certainly has some very old (andlisted) buildings which are no longer fit for their original purpose but it hasmade enormous strides forward. Now Im not entirely comfortable with theconcept of zoos, but, if they are to continue, they need to provide the bestpossible environments for animals, as well as giving considerable energy to thebreeding programmes and conservation of rare species. It was good to hearhow Dudley Zoo is responding positively to this challenge.
Dominating the Zoo, andindeed the skyline of Dudley, is the Norman castle. Currently we dontgive this nearly enough attention in our town. Its story has little impact andis little known. I wonder how it might contribute to the regeneration ofDudley?
The Black Country LivingMuseum proudly celebrates the stories of this area. Memories of strong,hardworking communities are shared, but also something of the struggles and theinjustices that for far too long have prevailed. Im excited about theirplans for a major development of the museum to include a new town that willtell the stories of the 40s, 50s and 60s. Memories of how Dudley andits neighbouring boroughs recovered from the effect of war will be powerfullytold. Key will be how it tells the stories of black and minority ethnicpeople, the enormous contributions that they have made and the shameful abusefrom others.
My final visit was into thebowels of the earth, with a barge trip into the limestone caverns under thetown with the Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust. Part of the tour undergroundincluded an audio visual presentation in the Singing Cavern. At the endof the show, somewhat like the rolling credits at the end of a film, the namesof those who died, and how they died, are projected onto the rock face. Memories are held of individuals with names who were precious in the sight ofothers, and whose lives came to an abrupt end but whose stories live on.
Each of the places that Ivisited, whilst celebrating the past, have an eye to the future. They arelooking to how they might develop further and how the past informs the choiceswe make in the present.
Christians are people whohold memory but also look to the future. We recall in scripture, throughthe use of story, the highs and lows of individuals and how a nation was formedin the crucible of exile and exodus. We also remember the emerging storesof a fragile church. Those communities, empowered by the Holy Spirit,were the beginning of a movement that changed lives as people told the story ofJesus, his birth and life, his ministry and conversations, his passion, deathand resurrection. The creed is a recitation of these stories and memoriesof the church, and at the eucharist we keep on breaking bread in remembranceof me.
The ongoing life of theChurch is, at least in part, the receiving and handing on of memories. Wetell cherished stories time and again, as well as recovering those that have beenforgotten. But it doesnt stop there. Memories shape our presentand our future. The Christian faith looks from the richness of the pastto a future of hope and peace and joy, so that in the present thy kingdom mightcome.