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