Across the world, people are doing a lot of remembering this morning. Nowhere is this more evident than at Ground Zero where today, after much strife and waiting, family members are gathering around a new 9/11 Memorial. Over the past three years, I have had the privilege to produce and edit a series of videos for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum entitled “9/11 The World Before and After”. In these videos we’ve done in-depth interviews with everyone from architects, counterterrorism experts, professors of history and religion, to those who were in the White House that day.This project has been both emotional and educational for me. Emotional because of the subject and the painful memories and images it recalls. Educational because, unbeknownst to me, memorials and the process of memorialization have become their own field of academic study.
Lately, my exposure to this field of study has got me wondering about the connection between how we remember the tragic events of recent history such as 9/11, the Holocaust, or Hiroshima and how we remember the death of Jesus. Furthermore, I have been wondering about how the ways in which we remember Jesus affect how we remember and make it through the bad events in our own lives.
Let’s start with historical memorials. Although humans have built memorials for centuries, how we build those memorials has changed in the past few decades. In the past, memorials to events such as wars were built as symbols of victory. They celebrated the triumph of governments and empires, but rarely mentioned civilians or portrayed those memorialized as victims. Also memorials were usually literal depictions of historical events or objects, a general on horseback or a cannon. It had a specific meaning, it told the official story or what “we all believed” about an event. It was assumed that what that event meant when the memorial was designed, would remain unchanged for the future. Furthermore, memorials were static representations to be observed. One walked up to something like statue, looked at it, maybe said a prayer and that was it. Rarely did such memorials cause a transformation in the visitor or change their perception about the event. For all intents and purposes, memorials were static official monuments that were not open to interpretation.
These memorials were usually well-meaning, but were the product of their times. If one visits just say, the Lincoln Memorial (which by the way was not built until sixty years after his death), it is quite impressive. However, one would have a very different experience if one were to walk a few hundred yards away and visit the Vietnam War Memorial.