The essence of memory and heritage...

In the NYTimes today i stumbled across two articles that got me thinking about identity, memory and grace.

The first article i read was about the bulldozing of Beijing's hutongs. It seems that in the rush to modernization and make money, many Chinese cities are razing and replacing their old neighborhoods with sky rises. Which of course is concerning to the people who don't live there and somewhat concerned with those who do. Many of the debates revolve around the preservation of cultural memory and neighborly connections. After all how many of us really know the people who live around us. When was the last time you invited your neighbors over for a bbq. It seems to me that in the US we're good at forming friendships with people we share interests with or similar lifestyles or life-stages with. (parent's groups/facebook/bible-study) but we're not so good anymore at knocking on a neighbor's door and getting to know them. (there are notable exceptions, I'm sure!)

I grew up in a teeny tiny town, and all my neighbors knew me and my extended relatives. This sounds like that these neighbors are small towns within a larger one. These places have literally existed for thousands of years. You did everything with your neighbors, even bathe and shared toilets. But the houses were drafty and hard to keep clean. So yeah, a shiny new apartment is very attractive if you live in those areas! It seems that these residents are faced with a rock and a hard place in terms of choices. They can have a warm, clean place to live, but they lose contact with the way of life and people they have known all their lives. They trade community for modernity and perhaps opportunity.

As i was mulling this over i ran into another article in the Times about the internet its looong digital memory and general lack of privacy. It tells the story about a woman who was kicked out of her program and had to change careers because of a single photo on her myspace profile, from 4 years earlier. The thought occurred to me that we in the west are on the other side of obliterating our communities and physical connections and replacing them with our internet connections. But on the internet there is no context and it appears no willingness to forgive even minor, youthful indiscretions.

But in small towns, sometimes the sins of the fathers, visit the children, entrapping them into that role. I have seen this up close and personal. There were several families in the small town i lived in that were entrapped by encyclical poverty. It seemed as if these kids were branded with failure once they were born and the townspeople would shrug and look the other way. So leaving was a way that many escaped this curse, to create new opportunities. But the internet may ruin even the possibility for reinvention and perhaps continue the polarization of our society.

What does occur to me is that China is in many ways following in our footsteps. That is what is scaring many western tourists, because we are living with the repercussion of our own industrial revolution, with its many unintended consequences in terms of our lives and communities. Which left us, in many ways, ill-equipped to handle the information revolution.

This leads me to a whole series of theological questions that i think we in the current christian community are asking, but afraid to answer. Questions about grace. When do we allow someone to make a clean break? Can we forgive someone even if we are constantly reminded of their past? What role does the church and community play in the west, in our fractured identities and communities. What does this forced integration of identities and selves means for the gospel? I'll be pondering that for a while....