Nostalgia whispers of Eden and hints at a new heaven and a new earth.
Welcome to The Weekender! Because the internet discourages focused reading, The Weekender series is designed to help you, dear reader, see the scope of God’s story in all areas of life through high-quality, curated content. On most the occasional Friday, we’ll have a fresh batch of resources to help you take a deep dive into one specific topic, theme or idea. Here’s to reading and thinking well.
Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.– C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”
My son got several Lego sets for Christmas. He has more Legos now as a 4-year-old than I did as an 8-year-old. (Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad.) But I am happy for him. It’s not really Christmas unless a Lego set is wrapped underneath the tree. They’re easy to identify—just one shake of the box and you know. James is very good at following the instructions and building the less-elaborate sets on his own. His imagination has been captivated by these bricks and regularly asks if I can bring home some of the Forestmen sets from my childhood that I have in my office. (Sorry, son. Maybe when you’re older.)
Several years ago, my brothers and I experienced a “Lego Renaissance.” Using the original instructions and digging through two huge tubs of bricks in my parents’ basement, we spent a couple Christmas breaks putting together several of our favorite sets. When we finished, we lined them up on bookshelves and the wet bar. It was like walking through a museum of our lives, each resurrected relic a window into boyhood and growing up. It’s hard to quantify how much we loved these sets, how much time we spent making, deconstructing and making again. We would drool over catalogues and beg Mom and Dad to get us this set and this set and definitely this one. And now to see my son behaving in the same way, to see his fascination grow and his world-making skills blossom is…well, it’s something else. I don’t even know how to describe it.
All of this is to say that nostalgia is inescapable. In building Legos with my son, I am at the same time re-building memories from my own childhood. Each brick we piece together is an exercise in nostalgia, while simultaneously serving as the construction of new memories with my son. It’s therapeutic and yet still somewhat haunting at the same time. Nostalgia comes from the Greek words that mean “homecoming” and “pain.” As Don Draper once explained, the word literally means “the pain from an old wound.” I was never “wounded” by Legos, but something about that part of my past is tinged with, as Lewis would say, glory and honor, and getting a glimpse of that again is like getting a glimpse of what John saw in Revelation 21. That might sound grandiose, maybe even silly, but there’s an ache that comes from what I had and what I long to have again. These types of desires can only be explained by the gospel.
So, queue up your favorite mixtape from high school, because this edition of the Weekender is about the necessity and trouble of nostalgia, and how “memories” of Eden echo in our aches and point us to a truer, more perfect future.
“No Apology for Nostalgia” by Jen Pollock Michel — First Things
Synopsis: There’s a healthy variety of nostalgia that can help hone our desire for our real home, a better country (Hebrews 11:6).
Representative quote: “We hold to the sense that the world should be different than it is. Better than it is. Nostalgia is a right appraisal of our story: A perfect world has indeed fallen from grace. As a word, it is instructive about our grief in this world, even instructive about hope.”
Why you should read it: Come for the nuanced and helpful take on nostalgia, stay for the C.S. Lewis quote near the end.
“Growing Up Nostalgic: Perpetual Adolescence and the Kingdom Come” by Dustin Messer — Theopolis Institute
Synopsis: Messer engages with Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver (which hit theaters last summer) and Nebraska senator Ben Sasse’s book, The Vanishing American Adult, to help us understand the confluence of nostalgia, perpetual adolescence and the church’s role in our maturation as a society.
Representative quote: “Christians must balk against any idea that our salvation will come driving a 1950’s Cadillac or a 1770’s chariot. Through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the future is invading the present. Maturity lies ahead, not behind.”
Why you should read it: Because Baby Driver is dope. And because Messer’s thoughts on how the church ought to be casting a “fresh vision of human flourishing” are inspiring and hopeful as we share the gospel and seek the good of our city.
“The Year Nostalgia Took Over” by Alan Siegel — The Ringer
Synopsis: Popular culture is cashing in on looking back, and while this isn’t exactly new, it is worth considering why it’s so pervasive now.
Representative quote: “Bombarded by bad news and disillusioned by the prospect of a bleak future, it makes sense that we’re constantly looking to the past for comfort, hope, and answers. Now that so many of our childhood experiences are digitized, it’s easier than ever to fall down the rabbit hole of nostalgia.”
Why you should read it: To give yourself a good pulse on what our friends, neighbors and coworkers are looking for when they look back. Siegel’s piece is a thorough, though secular, examination of the nostalgic phenomenon.