Things You Never Knew You Never Knew
In the first book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the United States and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone everywhere else, there is a fascinating item that has perplexed me since I was a child. The item is first introduced in the ninth chapter of the book, entitled "The Midnight Duel," when it is mailed to a young Neville Longbottom from his strict grandmother. It is described by J. K. Rowling as being "a glass ball the size of a large marble" that is "full of white smoke," which Neville immediately recognizes to be "a Remembrall." Neville and Rowling go on to explain that "'you hold it tight like this and if it turns red — oh...' His face fell because the Remembrall had suddenly glowed scarlet, '...you've forgotten something...'"
My favorite quote regarding this item comes from the film version of the book, in which Neville, after seeing his Remembrall turn red, admits, "The only problem is, I can't remember what I've forgotten."
I worry many of us are walking around today, doing the exact same thing—not remembering what we have forgotten—and it is causing a great deal of pain in our world, where there should be an outpouring of empathy and love.
In Scripture, there is a concept somewhat similar to J. K. Rowling and Neville's "Remembrall" that is introduced through the prophet Samuel. If you are not familiar with Samuel in world history, he played a key role in Israel's transition from a territory led by a series of judges, or rulers/military leaders, to a full-fledged kingdom under the nation's first king, King Saul, and later under King David. Samuel is recognized as "a prophet" by Jews, Christians, and Muslims around the world. The reason I chose to place "prophet" in quotation marks in the previous sentence is because many often misunderstand or misinterpret the meaning of this word in Scripture. In Hebrew, the word נָבִיא (nāvî) is what we often translate today into English as "prophet," but it also means "spokesperson." Prophets have been chosen throughout history to speak on God's behalf by God. Samuel was chosen for a specific purpose as all the prophets and prophetesses who came before him had as well.
All prophets and prophetesses throughout history have had one thing in common, and Samuel did it especially well (more on that later).
Before Israel was able to transition to a kingdom with Saul as its first king, Samuel first had to remind the people of Israel once again what they would need to do if they hoped to claim victory over the rival kingdom of the time that was invading, "If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve Him only, and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines" (1 Samuel 7:3 NIV). The Israelites listened, they obeyed, and then victory came through God in the form of a great storm. The Lord delivered them—again. After witnessing what the Lord had done, Samuel then did something rather peculiar, something almost as peculiar as Neville's "Remembrall" I mentioned earlier: "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us'" (1 Samuel 7:12 NIV). Samuel created a memorial for the Israelites to look at so they could remember what the Lord had done for them.
The sad thing is, though, they still eventually forget. Samuel watches it happen repeatedly throughout his life, and the many prophets and prophetesses who come after him continue to watch it happen throughout their lives too—and we are still watching it happen today too. The biggest factor that separates prophets and prophetesses from everyone else is that they remember; they remember what the Lord has done, and they work to remind the people around them. They remember what the Lord has said, who the Lord has called them to be, and what the Lord has told them to do while everyone else around them continues to forget. All prophets and prophetesses throughout history have had this in common, and the only reason one ever falls is when they forget as well.
The thing about "Remembralls" and memorials is that they serve no purpose if you cannot remember what you have forgotten. A church building serves no purpose if the people inside have forgotten why they are meeting together. Followers of Jesus cannot truly represent Him if they do not know why He came in the first place, and He came because of love (John 3:16). We have done an amazing job of making love so complicated when Jesus truly made it so simple. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, He immediately stated "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).
When asked who exactly "neighbor" refers to, Jesus proceeded to tell a story in which the hero was someone from a different culture than His audience's, a culture even looked down upon by most of His audience (Luke 10:25-37). He made it clear that "neighbor" refers to everyone, even (especially) those who think, act, dress, or speak differently than you. This is one of the most forgotten details when it comes to Jesus' teachings. It is why He was willing to walk fifty miles out of His way to have a moment with a woman outside of Israel (Matthew 15:21-28) and why He had His closest followers walk with Him into a region they were uncomfortable and unfamiliar in so He could have a conversation with a woman from the same culture as the hero from his story I referenced earlier, a woman who was also despised within her own culture (John 4). She and Jesus even had a conversation comparing cultures before Jesus changed everything for her, making their cultural differences suddenly unimportant, although Jesus still showed cultural understanding throughout the entire interaction.
Jesus constantly goes out of His way to remind those who are deemed untouchable, different, or lost in society that they are loved, worthy, and found.
I recently heard a sermon that made me realize just how many in the Church have forgotten this about Jesus' ministry. In the sermon, Islam was brought up, and the only example of Muslims given were the men who flew planes into the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. My heart broke, thinking about my Muslim friends who could not be further from those men in the ways that they love others and live out their faith each day. I couldn't help but wonder whether the pastor giving the sermon had ever talked to a Muslim before or asked them how they felt about what took place on September 11th, 2001. What a difference a conversation like the one Jesus shared with the Samaritan woman could make in the hearts of so many in our world today.
I was reminded of this again last week as many in the United States celebrated Thanksgiving. As we neared the holiday, I began seeing (as we do every year) numerous depictions of the indigenous people who occupied this land when settlers first travelled here 400 years ago in 1620 in the name of religious freedom; the same settlers who later turned on many of those indigenous people groups, restricting their freedoms and even killing many when they refused to give up their land. I could not help but think about how many of those indigenous tribes must view followers of Jesus today in the same way that the pastor had portrayed Muslims in his sermon. These thoughts break my heart, of course, because I know Jesus would have never wanted any of that done in His name, but the reality is that there are many today who say they represent Jesus while still condoning such actions and living in a way that could not be further from Him.
In the midst of the Thanksgiving celebrations, I came across an individual on the social media platform TikTok named Lia who is from Siksika Blackfoot, an indigenous tribe in Montana and Canada. In her video, I learned that many Indigenous people actually do not like the terms "American Indian" or "Native American" because their origins come from Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci. Lia explains in her video how "Native" and "Indigenous" are better blanket terms when referring to someone from a Native tribe, but that it is usually best to refer to someone by their specific tribe. I loved how she finished her video by saying that there's never any harm in asking someone what they prefer to be called. She did all of this in an incredibly kind and respectful manner, understanding that most of her viewers have probably never learned this before.
Lia's TikTok: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMJ4S23sB/
Lia's video really impacted me because I personally had never heard any of it before, and it led me down a series of videos in which I learned so much more too. I didn't even know that the month of November is recognized as "Native American Heritage Month" in the United States. One of the saddest videos I watched dived into just how disrespectful the Disney animated film Pocahontas truly is as well, especially the way the real Pocahontas' husband, Kocoum, is portrayed in the movie and how the story is heavily romanticized when the true story is extremely painful.
We cannot change history, but we can learn from it. In order to do this, though, we first have to recognize it, and then remember it. Jesus and the woman at the well both recognized the history between Jews and Samaritans before doing or saying anything else in their conversation. Once that was out in the open, a genuine exchange was able to take place across cultural lines. Jesus knew everything about this woman, "everything" she ever "did" (John 4:39-42 NIV), and all He did in response was keep loving her.
As a follower of Jesus, my hope is to continue His work in this world, to continue learning more about people and loving them no matter what they have been through or what they have done. As followers of Jesus, we are all called to go as many extra miles as it takes to better love the people around us wherever they are at. This starts with taking the time to get to know the people around us, asking questions, and never assuming we have all of the answers because we don't. The worst advice I ever received was from a man who once told me to strive to be the smartest person at any given table. I pray that I will always listen first because there is so much to learn from each and every person.
I have come to the realization that anyone who claims to have all the answers is not being honest, and many in my generation have come to realize this too. It is why there is such a great divide today between many and the Church. There is so much we will never fully know on this side of eternity, and it takes humility to admit that. It also takes humility to be quiet for a moment and just listen to someone's story, their history, and share in their pain; you will learn things you never knew you never knew about them. You might just find yourself on the receiving end of a great deal of love and kindness too as you keep asking questions with nothing but love, gentleness, and respect.
Although I now know just how disrespectful and painful the Disney animated film Pocahontas really is, some truth can still be found in the lyrics of the most famous song from the film, "Colors Of The Wind," when Pocahontas sings, "You think the only people who are people are the people who look and think like you, but, if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you'll learn things you never knew you never knew." As we conclude 2o2o, find ways to be strategic about how you love the people around you. This has been such a painful year for so many. Commit to taking a journey in someone else's shoes. It is a journey that happens over many conversations with lots of love—love we must never forget when interacting with everyone around us; love that our world needs.
Let this post serve as an Ebenezer for you in the years to come, a reminder of what the Lord has already done in the name of love as we keep moving forward.
Go and love, my friends.
James Davisson is just a small man with a big heart, serving a much bigger God.