I’ve been thinking about the role of Nostalgia in our lives.
When we think of nostalgia, most of the time what comes to mind are things like a ’64 Mustang, Christmas at a favorite grandmother’s house, Led Zeppelin IV albums, and a family vacation spot. All nice to think about.
Facebook is famous with its nostalgia posts. Like a picture of a headlight dimmer on the floor of a car, with the caption, “Who can guess what this is?” Or a shot of the weight on top of a pressure cooker. Or the dial on a rotary phone. The list goes on.
On the other hand Nostalgia can also function as drug which we take when things become uncertain and change inevitable. That’s when we talk about the “good ol’ days and long for a more familiar time.
Nostalgia plays a big role in today’s political debate. The uncertainty and insecurity that are caused by issues like racism, climate change, and economic justice makes some people squirm. That’s when they say, “This is not like the good ol’ days.”
What we fail to remember in these “good ol’ days” reverie is that those times were also home to polio and iron lungs, small pox, World War II and sacrifices in order to fund the war, the Chicago fire, and bomb shelters.
Nostalgia can be comforting like our favorite house shoes or the warmest sweater, but it can also stand in the way of imagination and creativity – stifling the possible solution to air pollution or water shortages. Nostalgia prefers old formulations rather than the risk of vibrant new possibilities.
Jesus said something indirectly about nostalgia using the metaphor of new and old wine. New wine, he said, is bubbling and expansive. A wineskin is unable to contain its potential. New wine is symbolic of risk, imagination, and creativity. On the other hand, old wine is flavorful and comforting, but it has lost all its potential.
Nostalgia is old wine. It wants to return to the past, to what is familiar, and what seems safe, not risky. There is much happening today that prompts this kind of security-seeking: Covid 19, the election, and inflamatory rhetoric, name a few.
Isaiah told Israel this as they faced the Babylonian military threat. Do not remember the former things…I am about to do a new thing…I will make a way in the wilderness…to give drink to my chosen people.” Isaiah 43:18. In other words, God did not want Israel to dwell on the way things used to be but to courageous lean into the future.
Nostalgia prevents that.