Mnemonics and Other Ways to Improve Your Memory – Part 2 of our Advent Series on Walls

Do you know what a mnemonic is?

It’s a learning technique that helps people retain information. A mnemonic is any learning technique that helps us retain information.[1]  You’ve probably learned quite a few during your life.  There’s a bunch of different kinds.  Like the rhyming mnemonic – “I” before “E” except after “C” or when sounded like “A” as in neighbor and weigh.  There’s also the acronym mnemonic.  For instance, the word HOMES is an acronym for the Great Lakes near Michigan – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.  There’s the ever popular “first letter” mnemonics where you memorize a sentence and the first letter of each word in the sentence represents something.  I can still remember the mnemonic our science teacher taught us to memorize the order of taxonomy – King Phillip Came Over From Greenland Smiling.  Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.  There are even visual mnemonics.  Have you ever tried to remember how many days a certain month has and put your hands together to measure the bumps?  Tall humps are 31 days and small humps are 30 or less in the case of February.  Some scientists hypothesize that the brain’s capacity to retain information is limitless![2]  However, the ability to RETRIEVE that information seems pretty finite.  We use memory tools like mnemonics to help us with that.  Wouldn’t it be great if the whole human race had a mnemonic to help us remember to love one another as Christ loved us.  Because it seems like over and over, we forget the lessons of history and make the same tragic mistakes. George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Some of the worst headlines about the Japanese when they first immigrated.
Some of the worst headlines about the Japanese when they first immigrated.

And we do tend to repeat ourselves.

History is REPLETE with instances of our own failure to learn.  Listen to these quotes and think whom they might be referring to.  “They’re stealing our jobs!”  “They’re stealing our women!”  “They’ll change our culture!”  “Why don’t they just go home?”  Given the cultural environment today, you might think these quotes are about Mexican people or even Muslims.  But these are the words said about the Japanese when they first started to immigrate to America.  It’s also the same words used about the Chinese when THEY first came to America.  And believe it or not, it’s also the SAME WORDS used to talk about the Italians, the Irish, the Germans, the Russians, and the Polish when THEY first started coming to America.  You might think that given so many of our ancestors fit into at least one of those groups, that by now we would have learned the lessons of the past and not assumed the worst of a new group of people trying to join the American Melting Pot, but alas, these same words are spoken over and over again as each new group moves into the area.  Just in researching my own heritage, I discovered that when Japanese immigration was at its peak some of the headlines written about people like my grandparents were shocking.

  • Japanese a Menace to American Women
  • Japanese Throttle Progress in the Rich Fruit Section – Actually they didn’t use the term “Japanese.”  You can guess what word they used instead.
  • Brown Asiatics Steal Brains of Whites – That’s one of my favorites.

Why is it we have such a hard time remembering the lessons of the past?

The thing is, God provides with the only tool we need – the Bible.  If you have it with you or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Romans 15:1-7.  Romans 15:1-7.  Believe me, we are not the first people to forget God’s lessons.  It happened all the time.  In the book of Judges in the Old Testament describes the history of the Israeli people before their first king and over and over again, the people would turn away from God.  Each time they turned away something horrible happened and they came crying back, and God would take them back.  This happened seven times during this one period alone.  Seven times in this one particular book of the Bible we read “the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord.”  SEVEN TIMES.  Usually with the word “again” in front of it.  “Again, the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord.”  One time, the writer didn’t even bother with that phrase and simply put, “No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals.”  At the time, Gideon was looked to as the leader of the Israeli people, but as soon as he dies, the people turn away.  So the people of Israel have a LONG history of falling away.  So in the letter to the church in Rome, Paul is trying to make sure this doesn’t happen to them.  At the time of his writing, the church is obviously going through some difficulty.  There are people strong in their faith who are judging those who are not as strong – condemning them for not being “Christ-like” and not adhering to “the rules.”  Paul tries to make them understand that being strong in the faith doesn’t mean being judgmental, but being of strong mind and strong heart, to NOT judge others, but instead help them grow stronger in their faith as well.  And so he writes this passage.

1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”[a] 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

In this short time span since Jesus’ death the church is already forgetting the love of Christ.

Instead of treating those who are new to the faith or not as strong in it as cherished brothers and sisters, they act judgmental.  Completely the opposite of how Christ would have acted.  Paul even quotes the words of Jesus to prove his point and says to the church in Rome, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us.  Paul is trying to get them to remember the lessons of the past.  To have them remember the teachings of Christ, because they are already forgetting it.  And that’s a lesson we need to remember ourselves, because too often we forget the lessons of the past and repeat our mistakes.  We end up hurting those around us.  We end up taking advantage of those less fortunate.  And we treat others without the grace and love that Christ demands of us.

From the top of the Vatican on our 5th Anniversary trip
From the top of the Vatican on our 5th Anniversary trip

Starting life a new in a foreign place has to be one of the most difficult challenges we have.

Imagine being in a place where you don’t know the language, where you don’t know the customs, and you are struggling to just get along and carve out for yourself a place to belong.  Cassie and I got a taste of that when we traveled to Europe for our 5th anniversary.  While we were in Rome, there was a beautiful little restaurant right down the street from where we were staying.  It was a little seafood place and the first couple of nights we walked by, it smelled delicious so on our last night we stopped by and had a bite to eat.  We sat down and the whole menu was in Italian so other than linguine and spaghetti, I was pretty much at a loss.  And the food they serve in Italy only bears a meaningful RESEMBLANCE to what we call Italian food here in the states.  I imagine it would be like trying to tell a person from Mexico that Taco Bell was authentic Mexican food.  Anyway, we sat down and the waiter only knew very limited English, which was still better than the absolutely zero Italian that I knew.  So I asked about this one particular dish that seemed tasty and he said it was a fried fish plate.  Seeing how much I love fried fish, I thought “Terrific!” and ordered it right away.  But when it came out, it was a WHOLE FISH – head and everything just dunked in the fryer.  I didn’t know what to say, and that’s when Cassie, who’s been to Europe before, leans over and says, “Oh, yeah.  I forgot to tell you.  That’s how they serve fish here.”  I looked at her and said, “That would have been nice to know BEFORE I ordered it.”  That was only a small taste of what it must be like for someone who lives in a place where they don’t know the language.  We often don’t know their circumstances, yet are very quick to make assumptions.  Imagine trying to carve out a life for yourself and your family where every day is like what Cassie and I experienced for that short time and then do it when the people around you look at you in disgust or treat you as less than human because you don’t speak their language.  As Christians, we should be doing a better job of loving one another instead of judging others.

This is just an example of one of the walls we build around ourselves.

We often have an “us vs. them” mentality.  Sometimes it’s about immigration or race or language or culture, but it could be about anything.  We need to constantly remind ourselves of who we are and the life we are supposed to live.  It’s in our human nature to drift away from that ideal and behave like our baser selves.  It’s part of our bent toward sin that we forget we all belong to God and instead treat one another like we are better than others.  But God provides us with the only tool we need to remember that all of us are never far from being the alien in any given situation.  God commands us to treat one another in love and we need to remind ourselves of that often.  I want to challenge you to make reading the Bible part of your life.  Even if its just once a week, pick it up regularly.  Even if you think you know all the stories, I think you’ll surprise yourself when you explore what God has to say.  Because we all need reminding now and again about being the people God created us to be.  It would be nice if there was a simply mnemonic to help us remember, but it would be even better if we simply steeped ourselves in the Word of God.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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