Remember - Remember No More, Part 5: Monuments

    05.26.24 | by Dr. Lewis Parks

     Remember – Remember No More, Part 5: Monuments

    May 26, 2024

    There is an area of leadership studies devoted to leadership succession. When is it time for a given leader to let go of power? How best to you prepare someone to take their place? And how do you insure an orderly transition of leaders? There is a special case study within the study of leadership succession that goes like this: how do you succeed a charismatic leader, the leader who made inspired decisions, led through crisis, always had the right words for the occasion? The great Moses is gone. He led the people out of Egyptian slavery, through the meanderings of the wilderness, to the edge of the promised land but did not live to cross over. The people still grieve, and the new, much younger leader is still finding his way. This is where we come into the story.  The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.” (Josh 3:7).  God says to Joshua: “We’re going to do something great together. It’s going to be daring. There will be risks. But if you follow my directions, this people will be able to close the book on the wilderness wondering and begin a new book on life in the promised land.”

    The directions God gives to Joshua are these.  (1) Break camp on the east side of Jordan and prepare to cross over to the west shore of the Jordan River opposite Jericho. (2) Let the priests carrying the ark of the covenant, the box that contains the Lord’s sacred presence and power in warfare, go first. The people must keep a healthy distance from the dangerous ark, about 3000 feet should do it. (3) The path to the future looks bleak. The Jordan is especially high at harvest time, and this is harvesting time. And the spies reported that the fortress of the enemy, Jericho, is straight ahead on the other side. (4) But hold steady: God is about to deliver. Prepare the people for a miracle.  By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites…” [and any other “-ites” you might encounter]. “

    The morning of departure arrives. The four priests take up the polls on which the ark of the covenant is suspended. The people give them lots of space as they pass. The priests approach the banks of the swollen Jordan. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).  What the priests and the people can’t see is a way forward; even so, by faith in God’s word they dip their feet into the water… I like the writer’s description of what comes next: the waters flowing from above the point where the priests enter rise up in a single heap, backed up, stacked up, like someone suddenly put in a dam. The waters below where the priests entered drained out into the Dead Sea and were cut-off. (3:16) …  Here’s the image running through my mind’s eye. In 1969 the Army Corps of Engineers were commissioned to clear away the big rocks that had broken away from the American Niagara Falls and clutter the base.  So, they just turned off the water!  They dumped 28,000 tons of rocks upstream in the Niagara River creating a cofferdam for the workers. After five months it was decided that those boulders at the foot of the American Falls had to remain in place for support. The cofferdam was removed and the water so to speak, turned on again… The priests carrying the ark stand in the middle of the dry riverbed of the Jordan and the people pass by to the other side. And that would make a good end to the story.  

    The people know two things they didn’t know before. (1) They’ve got the leader they need in Joshua. (2) And the God who was so engaged with their ancestors is engaged with them. So, turn the water back on. Next stop Jericho.

    Except: God is not done at the cofferdam of the Jordan River. The Lord tells Joshua to select a strong man from each tribe.  Send them out to middle where the priests stood, gather a serious rock, carry it back to the Gilgal camp and pile them. The Lord explains: “when your children ask in times to come, ‘what do these stones mean to you”, you will tell the story of crossing the Jordan… “These stones shall be … a memorial forever.”

    On this Memorial Day weekend, ponder with me what memorials do for all of us…  (1) They provide sensory cues to past events… It is not enough to carry the past around in mental images; you have your inner scrapbook and I have mine. We need help maintaining the objectivity of the past, the otherness of the past, the transcendence of the past over our personal memories. Monuments are meant to be seen and touched… One of the changes in my lifetime has been the movement of monuments from high pedestals to ground level.  Remember the surprise when the Viet Name Memorial opened in 1982? Persons memorialized were not high above reach like Lincoln or Jefferson but were on ground level. You could reach out and touch. You could trace names with pencil and paper. People could work out painful losses body and soul…  (2) They save us from egocentric illusions. Monuments are an intrusion of the past into the present. We were doing so well thinking all the world revolved around us and our moment in time. Then we bump up against rude but necessary intrusion… Here’s one of my intrusions. It’s a monument on the capitol grounds, Columbia SC. It’s a ground level replica of the haul of a ship.  It could be an innocent replica of a ship’s storage until you get close enough to notice the cargo is stacked bodies of slaves as they were carried from African to the US slave market. You think to yourself: “Oh yes, this too is part of our past.” …  (3) They help us hold on to whatever is good and true. Recall Paul’s list of Whatever’s [w/e]?  “w/e is true, w/e noble, w/e right, pure, lovely, admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil 4:8). That’s what monuments do. This (statue of liberty) is our default attitude about immigrants before and after we consider exceptions to that hospitality. Other monuments hold up bravery, pioneering spirit, leadership, martyrdom to a cause, Whatever!    

    Now ponder with me what memorials do for believers: They give preference to experiences of God’s deliverance… God to Joshua: “In the days to come, when your children ask you about that out-of-place pile of stones, you will tell them the story of crossing Jordan. You will tell them how I saved you.” … Of all the memories Christian believers could call to mind the ones we most need to call to mind are the memories of salvation: things God did to save us from ourselves, from powers and principalities, and from obstacles on the journey of life. That makes this [the cross] the most important monument to us: the cross where Jesus died “for us.” …  So, it’s Saturday night in Seoul, Korea. It’s a faculty trip to Korea, but I as director of the DMin program have been invited down to Incheon for a church’s celebration for DMin graduate, their pastor, one of my students. It was great party. They even had traditional Korean celebration grab (Hanbok) for me to wear. I dressed and joined the crowd and noticed the chuckles and pointing my way. I had my clothes on backwards. I changed and charged on with the party. The Koreans know how to celebrate educational achievement. Late Saturday night one of the church’s pastors and a lay leader are driving me back the 30 miles to Seoul. It’s been a long day. I’m over-tired. It’s been a few days since I could talk to the president of my fan club (Peggy). My drivers don’t speak English. I am feeling disconnected. We go round a bend, and we get our first view of the night skyline of Seoul. And there are the red neon crosses of Seoul.  Dozens, of them of all sizes. They shine bright and defiant in a country that is not majority Christian. Dozens, of them of all sizes. They shone bright and defiant in a country that is not majority Christian. I looked at those red neon crosses, took a deep breath, and chilled. I remembered who was in control. I remembered.