lest we never know

'Lest we forget' is the refrain we associate with horrid history like the Holocaust. Keeping alive the memory is designed to help prevent history from repeating. Forgetfulness is just not acceptable.

Yesterday I visited Cheoung Ek (The Killing Fields) for the first time and Tuol Sleng (the Genocide Museum) for the second time. It is sobering to the point of sickening. I find it so disturbing that it happened in my own lifetime. While I can not be held responsible for knowing the events of 17 April 1975 as they occurred, it bothers me that it took me so long to be impacted by what happened here in Cambodia.

I came away preoccupied by the danger of 'lest we never know'. In an age of information flooding all kinds of media channels it is still possible to never know. Forgetfulness may be unacceptable - but surely so also is ignorance, given the the information sources to which we have access? Is it acceptable to remain in the dark with horrid history? While 'lest we forget' is noble, the reality is that holocausts keep happening. I understand why the Holocaust of the 1940s retains such a focus in our attention - but it is troubling that the Cambodian one of the 1970s took so long to spark a response ... and then what about the Congolese one (referred to here) of the 2000s in which 5 million are estimated to have died? Is 'lest we forget' enough - or does the 'lest we never know' refrain need to grab our hearts and minds as well?

[NB: I think 'rough' is meant to be 'rouge' - extracted from the Tuol Sleng visitor's brochure]

This is where the media is so troublesome. Its power lies less with the slant it gives to stories (as most people assume), and more with what it decides to be a story in the first place. This is one of the irritations with the powerful Fox News out of the States. It displays a chronic inability to report news that is not of immediate consequence to a certain segment of American society. This creates a bubble in which people live and move and have their being - and in which 'lest we never know' about horrid history becomes a reality.

For example, I was in the USA for Superstorm Sandy last month. Over-excited journalists kept us inside this compelling story for some days. I will not denigrate the suffering it caused - very real for very many people. But it  illustrates this power of the media in selecting the stories. We heard little about the suffering Sandy caused before it arrived in the USA - and, most troubling of all for me, I was left wondering about all those storms and disasters around the world which do not have an excited journalist with a camera to attend to them. And the USA media is not the only one at fault here!
Lest we never know...

It must be almost 40 years ago now. I heard someone say that when the world discovers a tragedy, the church should strain to move on to uncover one that has yet to be discovered.
Lest we never know.

nice chatting, I think



Sarah Snell said…

In the age we are in, where meaningless facts (like Justin Beiber’s breakfast habits, or Michelle Obama’s latest hat) are broadcast far and wide, ignorance can be no longer an ‘excuse’ for our lack of movement over humanitarian issues. And yes, the media is extremely slanted, but with the multitude of news sites, Twitter, Facebook, and the like, it’s our responsibility, and we have the skills and means, to look beyond what is being presented to us, and search for truth. In this age, I believe that if we ‘never know’ it’s because we never tried.

I am often wondering what will be the ‘issue’ (I know there will be many) of my generation, about which the church will look back and say “we did our best” or “we made our best excuses”. I think of apartheid in South Africa or genocide in Rwanda (to name the first few that spring to mind), and my heart hurts for the people who suffered at the hands of man, and who were desperate to see Jesus’ compassion through the hands and feet of the church, and who never saw it.

I pray that I will get to the end of my lifetime and know that the church saw extreme poverty and did its best to feed and nourish; that we saw children being stolen and sold, and intervened; that we saw economic oppression, and gave a voice to the powerless.

Whether we are a young person going overseas and physically ministering, a mum befriending another local mum in a community, a church leader calling on their congregation to see and do; or an elderly, frail man praying humbly every night for God to work through him; let us know, and let us move.

And may our main drive be not the recognition we will get, or the sense of fulfilment we may achieve, but may our motivation be an unstoppable, joyous, grateful response to the One who didn’t have to move for us, but did.

(Sorry for the huge comment! When I get going I find it hard to stop…
Tim Page said…
I found this profoundly thought provoking...thanks, Paul.
Paul Windsor said…
Thanks, Tim - and you too, Sarah!

It is very sobering to think of how the next generation will judge us. What are the blindspots we are missing? You raise some likely possibilities...
It seems important to break out of the bubble in which we live - whatever that may be - and to strive to see the world from other peoples' viewpoints and in light of what God reveals about himself in Scripture and in Jesus.

Popular Posts