Remember It Always: Reclaiming Humanity Through Memory in Elie Wiesel’s Night

My favorite class this semester has been Spiritual Autobiography with Dr. Yolanda Pierce. Stories are our means of processing our lives and relating to one another; stories make up what it means to be human, and as such I believe that every story, no matter how ‘secular,’ is also deeply sacred. I recently read a quote by Mary Pellauer which I found thought-provoking; she writes, “If there’s anything worth calling theology, it is listening to people’s stories – listening to them and honoring them and cherishing them, and asking them to become even more brightly beautiful than they already are.” Listening to others’ stories may be the best way to broaden our understanding of the Spirit’s work in the world. Stories are never just stories; they are a gift of God to which we should listen with reverent attention.

In this brief paper, written for my Spiritual Autobiography class, I explore the ways in which Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, uses memory to reclaim humanity, specifically in his autobiography Night. Building off the irony of an SS officer’s command to “remember it always,” I argue that Wiesel does this in three ways: first, by telling stories, he validates a crucial part of the identity of the Jewish people. Second, Wiesel makes an effort to memorialize the dead – as he writes, “To forget them would be akin to killing them a second time.” I focus on four specific passages which are a eulogy of sorts. Third and finally, Wiesel uses memory as a form of resistance against God, death, oppression, and trauma.

Writing this paper was a deeply moving experience for me, and I did a lot of sitting in reverent silence before I could even begin to put pen to paper. In the future, if I ever have a spare moment, I would love to expand on this paper, incorporating Dr. Pierce’s questions about the women in Wiesel’s life, and exploring Wiesel’s other works and more secondary sources. Until then, here’s the short version.

Remember it Always- Reclaiming Humanity Through Memory in Elie Wiesel’s Night

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Published in: on April 13, 2015 at 10:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, and a Touch of Compassion

The thought first came to me while watching a video on Mother Teresa. I still find it difficult to articulate. But if I could attempt to describe it, it would be something along these lines: We are compelled to serve others in humbling ways simply because their humanity, in all its brokenness and — well, humanness — deserves recognition.

It came to me during a shot of Mother Teresa caressing the fingerless hand of a leper. Something inside me drew back in revulsion, and then was ashamed at my reaction. I tend to shy away from what is gross or uncomfortable, but after all, the hand is suffering and can’t help how it appears. It is a very human part of a soul whom I am called to love, and I must love it because it is a part of them. I must honor the mundane and even the downright unpleasant, because it is a part of God’s good creation, and it is a privilege to care for it.

We cannot shy away from the unattractive parts of our humanity, or pretend they don’t exist. We must embrace the blood, the sweat, the tears, the snot, everything that makes a person human.

I find feet to be creepy and disturbing, but they deserve to be washed with all the respect and tenderness of Jesus.

Hands deserve to be held.

Faces deserve to be touched.

Eyes deserve to hold a steady gaze.

The broken, the diseased, and the deformed yearn to be touched, and to be the one whose touch brings a smile to their face or tears to their eyes is just as great a privilege as holding the hand of a boyfriend or girlfriend — because in so doing, we affirm their humanity and our own.

The second time I thought — or rather, felt — this concept was when I saw these poignant pictures of Pope Francis blessing a man whose face was disfigured with a rare skin disease.

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It was fascinating to read comments like these from non-Christians who were touched by a picture of authentic love: “I assumed that any religious figure in public life was a fraud, but this guy makes you want to go to church to hear more. I’ve never felt that before.” And they say this because, from what I know of Pope Francis, he spends more time simply living like Jesus than pontificating stuffy religious principles. And profound theological insights, unless they manifest themselves in service which is profoundly practical, are not profound at all. We must spend at least as much time washing the feet of society as we do theorizing about heady ideas.

Very few speak the language of theology…

…But every broken person longing for a touch understands the language of love.

When, like Jesus, we engage in the brokenness of the world, it declares that humanity is worth something. Love is not only a feeling or a stagnant reality. Real love declares a truth, and in so doing, creates it. It does not merely exist, but by its very nature it calls into being the reality which it chooses to profess. In other words, by loving those whom the world considers unworthy, we declare a new reality — that they ARE worthy — and our very act of loving them makes them so.

Jesus took up His cross and declared that we are worth dying for.

As we selflessly love and serve and give, we profess the same reality — and in so doing, bring the Kingdom to earth.

of chicken, gay rights, and cool shoes

So as it turns out, Truett Cathy opposes gay marriage. Was anyone actually surprised? Or did we just have to find some drama somewhere? Really, America, have we nothing better to do than to freak out over everything? When life is calm for 2 seconds, we start freaking out that there’s nothing to freak out over, and we immediately have to find something to freak out about. And this time, people began to freak out over…chicken. I guess it was mostly about gay rights, but everyone used chicken nuggets as their megaphones: attention America, if you boycott chicken on August 1st, you’re gay. If you eat chicken, you hate gays.

But because I prefer not to stir up controversy, and I’m pretty chill and love everyone, I went to Chick-fil-a without a political agenda that night. I went because my friends were going and I wanted some chicken and a chocolate-cookies-and-cream milkshake. (They charge extra to mix the two, but it’s so worth it.)

While we were there, the protestors began to line up with their signs. Some of them were about gay rights (“Gay people like chicken too”), but some of them were blatantly offensive (“There is no God”).

The problem with huge rallies like the Support Chick-fil-a night is that they are a breeding ground for anger. The “there is no God” dude shouldn’t have even been there. The only reason he showed up with his sign was because he knew there would be huge crowds of conservative Christians there, and he wanted to seize the opportunity to piss them off. I mean, let’s be real. He wasn’t even standing for gay rights. He was standing for controversy and immaturity.

Nobody changed anybody’s mind that night.

The huffy Christians tried to argue with the picketers, which fueled their anger.

The stuffy Christians walked by with heads high, blatantly ignoring them, which made them want to be even louder.

And the fluffy Christians tried to tell them, “God loves you, and I’m praying that you have a change of heart”, which was complacent and utterly unhelpful.

I wanted to be none of these.  So as I was walking out, I told a guy, “Dude, your shoes are awesome.”

His serious face lit up in a smile. “Who, me? These shoes?” I smiled and nodded.

He turned to the guy next to him and exclaimed, “Dude, I told you these shoes were cool when I bought them!”

He turned back to me and said, “Thank you.” It could have been an expression of gratitude for the compliment, but I think it meant more than that.

Why did I bring up his shoes in the midst of a heated controversy? Because he’s a person, and I’m a person. And people buy shoes. It’s what we do. It’s an essential part of being human. So is eating chicken. I wanted the picketers to know that I was eating chicken not because I hate gays but because I am a person and people eat chicken.

Because we both appreciate cool shoes, we had something to share in that moment even while there was tension all around us. Even while culture was telling us that we should be enemies that night because I ate chicken and he didn’t. Even while all these silly people were letting chicken divide them when they could have made friends over a cool pair of shoes.

Really, shouldn’t our humanity be what defines us? Shouldn’t it be what unifies us? Buying shoes and eating chicken are fundamental aspects of being human. But even more fundamental is this: we are all broken. And when you understand that, it doesn’t matter as much why people are broken, or how they are broken. Because in some way or another, we are all broken. And then anger turns to empathy, and division to solidarity. Because it’s not just them. It’s not just us. It’s us and them, together.

It just depends on what your eyes see. Everyone else saw that guy and automatically stereotyped him based on the circumstances. “Not eating chicken — must be gay. Not like me.” I saw him and thought, “He’s a person — like me. And broken — like me. And he has cool shoes.” And when you begin to see people that way…

…peace is only a glance away.

Separation of Church and Commerce: the holy, tainted by humanity

Humanity is fallen.

Completely, irrevocably, hopelessly fallen.

We set into motion the second law of thermodynamics: we were born with an innate tendency to destroy everything we touch. This is why we can never be saved by works: “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). We make mistakes. We screw things up. We’re a flawed creation that can attain perfection only through the grace of God. We can only be fulfilled through surrender to Him.

Why is honest money more rewarding than ill-gotten goods? Why are committed relationships more satisfying than short-term flings or one-night stands? Because that’s how God intended things to be.

But then we get involved. We think we can do better. We devise alternate routes that we think will fulfill us, but by the very act of taking control we have condemned our own endeavor to failure.

Even the church is not safe from our unclean hands. When we let our humanity take over and we begin to call the shots, the church becomes something entirely different than it was intended to be. Instead of a living, growing body dependent on God and surrendered to His will, the church becomes a corporation.

An efficiently run corporation, to be sure. But efficiency is the enemy of flexibility. We become so rigidly structured that God can no longer move in our midst. We don’t follow the lead of the Spirit because we follow the program instead.

When we play by our own rules, we revert to the business-like system of society. The preacher becomes the manager. The shepherds become a board of directors. Offerings are no longer a gift; they are a budget. And God? He is nothing more than a sponsor. When that happens, the church no longer has any meaning. We’ve mixed our faith with consumerism and our religion is just another part of our American Dream.

Even ministry has become only a sanitized sub-category of climbing the corporate ladder. Which church pays more for a children’s minister? How much is the pastor expected to do? Who gets to fire the worship leader? At that point, it’s not service; it’s commerce. It’s not about the heart; it’s about the money and the titles and the desire for power and all the things the world chases after.

David Platt writes in his book Radical, “We will…aim toward embracing Jesus for who he really is, not for who we have created him to be. We will look at the core truth of a God-centered gospel and see how we have manipulated it into a human-centered (and ultimately dissatisfying) message.”

We need to step back and take a serious look at what we’ve become. Are we a people sold out to Jesus and chasing after Him with everything we’ve got? Or do we hang back in our comfort zone, weighed down by stats and dollar signs and positions? Do we fearlessly step out and do crazy things for Christ, trusting Him for the outcome? Or have we traded faith for common sense?

Keith Green was a cool guy who saw everything in black and white and wasn’t afraid to step on toes. He gave away his albums because he saw them as ministry instead of money. He and his wife Melody took in drug users and unwed mothers, eventually buying the other houses on the street to continue growing their community of transformed believers. They prayed. They trusted God to provide — and He came through. When Keith felt God calling him to Texas, he left everything and followed, continuing His ministry there. At concerts, when Keith felt the Holy Spirit moving, he hid under the piano so that he wouldn’t get in the way. He knew what would happen if he let his humanity take control, so he left his life in God’s hands.

Could we live a life like that? Can we give up our consumer-driven church with all its human-imposed complications and just reach out for JESUS?

Actually forget the “we” because revival has to start somewhere and it might as well start with you. Will YOU be the first to let it all go and chase after Him?

Published in: on February 13, 2012 at 1:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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