Church Message

Memorials Needs Memories
By Ronald Gallagher

Church message imageChurch page directory 6oct16No summer day, not even Virginia’s notorious ‘dog days’ of August, ever intimidated my grandpa into wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Longsleeved shirts were as much a trademark as his hat and that little half smile he held in reserve for those rare incidents that were particularly hilarious. His tendency toward understatement and concealing things that didn’t need to be exposed was a characteristic that extended to every part of his life.

One of the very few physical things I inherited from my grandpa, who was in every practical way a father to me in the early years, was a picture. It wasn’t one of those pictures from that era, where a guy is just standing there rigid as a board with that deadpan, half-angry look, because he was tricked into wearing his ‘funeral suit’ when nobody really died. The picture I got was long and narrow—the biggest, longest photograph I ever saw as a kid. It was a picture of the 387th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army, a unit activated on September 5, 1918, and including my grandpa. They were lined up in formation and officially memorialized on film. That brief moment of his life was captured with the click of a shutter nearly a hundred years ago, and now I have it. The sad thing is that I only have the memorial, not the memory. The monument was passed along, but I was not allowed to inherit the meaning.

That picture was taken near the end of World War I, a global conflict that saw the death of some 9,000,000 combatants and 7,000,000 civilians. Sadly, I learned those facts about ‘The Great War’ from history books, not from my grandpa. Like all monuments, my picture was just a lifeless symbol with no capacity to transmit anything beyond its presence. Monuments need to be connected to a memory. Monuments are dead things. Memories live. Monuments don’t experience life. People with memories do. Monuments don’t think; they don’t feel; they don’t move on their own; and they neither love nor hate. Monuments simply assume their position and patiently wait until some living person comes along to explain them.

God highlighted that in the process of bringing His people into the Promised Land by issuing an unusual command. "Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?' Then you shall answer them… And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:1-6 NKJV)

The rocks they picked up were just rocks, some bigger than others, and some shaped differently than others, but just rocks. They weren’t polished rocks, or engraved rocks, or rocks containing precious metals or valuable gemstones. They were just plain old nondescript ‘bottom of the river’ rocks that happened to be exposed because of the miraculous events that occurred on that day, to which, by the way, the rocks contributed nothing.

We don’t know what any individual rock looked like or what the monument looked like with all of them stacked up. Their only significance was that they were in the presence of a supernatural event. None of those rocks observed anything, felt anything, or remembered anything. They were just a lifeless part of the landscape, helpless to experience or explain anything about the awesome power of God.

God’s intention was clear. His people were to bring their kids here, and they were to tell them what those stones mean. Those rocks explained nothing, and God wanted it that way. Their silent sentinel was to prod their visitors to return to that day in their minds and hearts, to re-capture the glory, to re-absorb all that the day represented—and to re-tell the story. The rocks couldn’t remember, and none of them could tell the story. And without a ‘memory’, the rocks aren’t a ‘memorial’ anymore. They’re just a pile of rocks.

If those rocks could feel, their hearts would be broken, because God’s people eventually stopped bringing their kids, stopped telling the stories, quit re-living His power in their lives. Then they weren’t really a memorial anymore—just a muted picture—just another lifeless pile of rocks. Let’s not let this ‘Memorial Day’ become just another meaningless ‘pile of rocks’.

In addition to being an active writer, speaker, teacher, and blogger, Ron Gallagher serves in a variety of roles as a ministry consultant for local churches. His Biblical insights are coupled with down-to-earth humor, satire, and relevant stories, all aimed at promoting "right side up thinking in an upside down world.” Ron strives to apply God’s truth in a way that stimulates the mind, encourages the heart, and challenges the cultural norm.  Check out his blog, "Gallagher’s Pen” at


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