My mom used to throw hwatu cards down beside my family and me while we sat on the floor during cold evenings. We played over winter break when it was too dark and chilly to go outdoors, with the sound of Christmas movies keeping us company in the background. We sat close together and close to our low-lying Korean-style table. It was covered with snacks and the sliced fruit my mom served us as both dessert and curated artwork, the way Korean moms do.
I loved the sound of those tiny, plastic, red and white cards slapping the ground like an exclamation.
I studied their pictures as a kid. They were easy to hold in my small hands, and I traced their drawings of flowers, symbols, and seasons with my finger, wishing they could tell me more about where I came from.
Then recently, while trying to remember the rules of the game so I could teach my own family to play for Lunar New Year, I found articles of its origin online. It came from a Japanese game called hanafuda and was brought to Korea during the Japanese Occupation. Before that, the game was inspired by Portuguese traders who traveled to Japan with their own card games.
Japan colonized Korea between 1910 and 1945. My mom was born the year the occupation came to an end, and her entire life from the day she was born has carried the repercussions.
Thinking about all of this made me less enthusiastic about playing.
Historical truths can do that, can’t they? History is always complicated, and whether we like it or not, we are living from its impact.
Our history as the people of God is no less complicated. We are eager to mark and make much of moments of victory, as we should, but we run from the moments that remind us of our capacity for malevolence.
Psalm 53:2-3 reminds all of us — every nation, color, and people — who we are without Christ:
God looks down from heaven
upon the sons of men
to see if any understand,
if any seek God.
All have turned away,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
It’s tempting to just ignore the ugly parts of history, slap a “Be kind” t-shirt on, and try to move on. But if we’re honest, that strategy only deals our children and their children a rough hand.
We cannot do better if we forget what’s been done in the past. We cannot do better if we believe that the mere passage of time has the power to make us better humans. We cannot pass a legacy onto our children and their children by singing great worship songs with all of our heart.
Nothing will change from generation to generation in our nation if we believe we aren’t capable of, connected to, and complicit in the atrocities of our ancestors and our neighbor’s ancestors.
When I lived in Germany, I couldn’t walk anywhere in the city without stepping on a brass cobblestone — a stolperstein, literally meaning “a stumbling stone.” They were impossible to miss, and they forced everyone to acknowledge the nation’s history as they went about their everyday life. Alongside of running errands, waiting for the street tram, meeting a friend for coffee, or shopping at the Sunday farmer’s market were these stones of remembrance. Each stone was inscribed with the birth and death of a citizen and victim of Nazi Germany’s holocaust.
In other cities, there are plaques of remembrance placed on known former residences. All of it, whether stones or plaques or memorials, was an intentional communal act of remembrance. They weren’t there to shame Germans who didn’t take part in the Holocaust but to collectively acknowledge and remember what was done, what they had lost and continue to grieve the loss of, and what horrors anyone is capable of. It reminded me of what can happen to any nation when it’s ruled in fear, divided, and when those in power believe a certain group of people is supreme over others and another group is meant to bear the brunt of blame for their problems.
As people of God, we are all called to remember, learn, lament, repent, grieve, and retell stories of redemption through Jesus.
How else can we embody the hope of rebirth, renewal, and rebuilding?
So, now, when my family plays hwatu, they will not only hear about the way my mom slapped cards onto the floor and fed us perfectly sliced fruit like love letters. They will also eventually hear about where the game came from, how my mom finished those game nights carrying a silent but visible sadness, and about the God who meets us in the paradox of our connected pain, as it’s braided and bound tightly to our collective liberation and joy. In their own way and on their own time, my children will need space to lament the pains of the past connected to our family heritage, our spiritual heritage, our nation, and our world, along with the celebration and the goodness of everyday life.
While we laugh, receive joy, and carry hope for renewal, may we also find God as we embrace the necessary spiritual practice of remembering.Leave a Comment
Ruth Mills says
Thank you for this beautifully written reminder of how important the past is to not be erased but to give perspective to our here & now & the hope of where we want to be. And praise God He has given us the way to heaven we could never obtain for ourselves! Bless you!
Hi Ruth, Thank you. Indeed, though I wish much of it could be erased with time because of how atrocious so much of it is, the only way forward is to remember, face it in our past and in ourselves, grieve, and work towards restoration, reparation and the liberation of all people, because of what Jesus has done for all of us.
Annette B says
You courageous woman!
connie ker says
Remembering what God has done, and remembering those who have gone before us as we miss their presence in our lives. It reminds us that we also will be leaving a legacy, so contemplate and pray about what that will be. Thank You for the topic of Remembering this morning.
Lisa Lloyd says
Wow wow wow!! This was a beautiful message snd so many , myself included, need to hear . The Lord has done so much for us and I need to remember snd live it everyday and thank Him for His redemption.
You are an amazing writer..
Thank you, Lisa.
Leutisha Stills says
Thank you for reminding me of the importance of remembering, as well as knowing that the passage of time does not automatically make us better people; as you said, We cannot do better if we believe that the mere passage of time has the power to make us better humans. We do better by remembering and learning how to improve because we remember. Your post resonates with me in ways I never thought of. I’m always mocked about my memory, but now, I thank God He has given me that capacity because in knowing better, I strive to do better and be a better human being. I process at my own pace on my journey and that includes remembering. God bless you.
Amen, Leutisha, I’ve often wished time could make things go away, but they keep coming back if we don’t face them – as individuals and in community. Thank you for being willing to look back and see what was, while looking to move forward, not in your own power, but with clarity and in the hope Jesus gives us as we lament, repent, seek reparation and restoration and let our hearts and lives be changed.
every country in the world held slaves….many are still enslaved in one form or another….every race came here from another country with the exception of the indians….and yet only one group is held responsible for the failings of all other races or people…I refuse to lump everyone into a race we are all people of different ethnicity and origin and creeds and color….I came from a very poor family and in a poor neighborhood….no car…mom walked to work and us to school…neighbors had to bring us to the grocery…we were friends with all races in our neighborhood…still are 60 years later…and I dont blame anyone for our family’s meager beginnings….in fact I’m grateful God provided food clothing and shelter and education….all on which we built our future…is it fair to blame a nation on the failings of some….we all fall short….we are all sinners…but we can all be forgiven even our ancestors who failed as well….God bless us all with peace in our hearts and love for all….
Michelle Reyes says
I’m a bit shocked by your comments. Your very first sentence acknowledges the fact that humans all over the world have been complicit in the oppression and abuse of other humans…yes, what is your response to that? To deflect, ignore, and justify. That is very sad.
The whole point of Tasha’s article was to acknowledge the darkness of human history, to seek to repair and restore as best we can, and create a better path forward. That’s something that we all must do.
Instead of focusing on the blame game, I challenge you to consider what role you can play and how you can work toward a healthier, more loving future. And please listen to voices of color as you do.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and where you are coming from. However, I want to be clear that “blaming a nation on the failings of some,” misses the point of my article. Even if we did not actively participate in the actions of one of our ancestors, it’s important to realize that the consequences of their actions do not stay confined to their personal lives and the time they lived. We are impacted by history – the good and the bad – and some of the actions that were set in motion in our nation and in many other nations have created entire systems that continue to oppress people made in the image of God. Without facing the reality of this, we cannot move forward.
Luana Henry says
A beautiful message wonderfully written. You’re article sparked a vision for me of all the statues and monuments being destroyed across our nation. I think of this a tragic mistake. While the statues may be a sad reminder or hurtful memories they are reminders of our history. We, our children and our children’s children need to be able to process the past as you so eloquently wrote… “my children will need space to lament the pains of the past connected to our family heritage, our spiritual heritage, our nation, and our world, along with the celebration and the goodness of everyday life.” How else does one learn not to repeat the tragedies of the past wile working towards a harmonious future. Thank you for your article Tasha, your writing ability is truly a gift from God.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for your kind words. I wanted to note that there’s a difference between the memorial stones I wrote about from my time living in Germany, and keeping statues and monuments of leaders who led in atrocious and shameful parts of a nation’s history. There are no monuments of Hitler or symbols of Nazi Germany that still stand today. There’s no honoring of the leaders who actively oppressed others, or any kind of nostalgia paired with them. Instead, the memorial stones ask the people of today to remember those whose lives were taken, and those who were oppressed. I think it’s a devastatingly right way to remember the past, and the right way to look to the future. We cannot lament a history we don’t face.
Tasha, this is so good! You have explained this concept in a new way. We must remember and grieve so that we might avoid making similar mistakes. Thank you for your wonderful illustrations. Painful memories are real and help us face real stumbling stones.
Thanks, Irene. I’m so glad it helped give new insight to something. So glad you are here!
So beautifully written . I had no idea about the cobblestones in Germany even though I have friends who have lived there in the past. Honoring memories is so important and perhaps this is what we need to do more than ever to help heal all the hurts.
Thank you, Madeline. I believe there are some cities chose to put the memorials “stones” on places of residence instead of on the ground, but still, the reason is the same. Agreed – we have to go back to go forward.
Carol Brown says
Thank you for sharing your timely story. Carol B
D.K. Wagner says
Thank you for writing this. We learn from our mistakes and from other’s mistakes. Hopefully there will never be another Holocaust, but to erase history is to be unable to learn from it. As long as Satan exists there will be people willing to do horrible things to others. We must combat this by sharing the Gospel.
Beth Williams says
We must remember history or we will be doomed to repeat it. Our children need to learn the history of their heritage. That is part of the problem in America today. The young don’t truly understand the entirety of our past. How we oppressed the Indians who were here first. The whole history of a nation needs to be told & remembered. Maybe more cities should have some kind of remembrance stones. Something to remind us of those whose lives were lost in war or other atrocities.