Reflexive versus restorative nostalgia

What do these terms mean: reflexive and restorative nostalgia.

Actually, it’s quite simple: someone with reflective nostalgia thinks about the past, likes to look back, likes to remember, but knows very well that it’s over.

Someone with restorative nostalgia, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to return, to preserve the old.

Nostalgia itself is not a state worth striving for. The dictionary defines it like this:

Nostalgia: mood triggered by discomfort with the present, filled with indefinite longing, expressed in turning back to a past time transfigured in the imagination, whose fashion, art, music or the like one revives.
And yet there is an essential difference between reflective and restorative nostalgia. Restorative nostalgia suffers from loss of reality and detachment from the now.

Wikipedia, translated from German

Whereas reflective nostalgia represents a longing that can even be a driver for the creation and preservation of what is new but fundamentally possible because of its fundamental connection to reality, restorative nostalgia only wants to turn back the wheel of time and rejects all change unless it restores what used to be.

I have often heard in my community that standing still means going backwards. There is no going backwards with God. Jesus himself says that whoever puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not made for the Kingdom of God.

And yet, the church in general wants nothing more than the return of a former time. A time when morality was still important, when values still existed.

Here the church commits a few errors in thinking:

Today, there are values, too. They are just not the ones we consider biblical from our own worldview. Biblical because they correspond to our interpretation of Scripture.

And secondly, there has never been an age in which the so-called biblical values were really lived. This idea is called the Golden Age Fallacy. The good old days were never good, but one thing they are: old.

Is the church now suffering from reflexive or restorative nostalgia?

I think there are both, and third, there is the congregation that is not nostalgic at all.

Fundamentalist communities tend to have restorative nostalgia. They want to go back to the good old days and, if necessary, force everyone to rebuild society along those lines.

But what time would that be? Interestingly, it is often the time of one’s own youth, if the family was intact, and if not, one or two generations before that, when this was still the case. Certainly before 1968 and the sexual revolution.

Or it is, and here it becomes abstract, the time of the first church, but without letting go of the comforts of today, and certainly without the persecution to the death that was quite prevalent back then?

With a little understanding of history, however, it becomes clear to everyone that the periods chosen, no matter what they are, were far from perfect, and probably not even morally better.

Let us take again Jesus’ word of the plow. To long to go back to a past time is to undermine and refuse the process God has in mind for humanity. God basically goes forward with us.

We can see this also in the fact that God created time as a half dimension that can only be traversed in one direction.

There is something about the past: when it is our own past, we do not remember how something happened, indeed our memory changes every time we go back to it. If we look back on it with nostalgia, the memory will present itself better and better, more and more transfigured.

When we recall the time of our parents or grandparents, this multiplies with the number of narrators involved.

When we look back at any era in world history, we know far too little and we leave out the really challenging circumstances: the health conditions, life expectancy, hygienic conditions, lack of education and so on, not to speak of wars and social injustices.

Learning from the past is, of course, something else entirely. Reflective nostalgia can do that, but nostalgia is not necessary for the learning process. Rather, it is about context, embedding today’s challenges in a historical context, not forgetting history, past approaches and failures.

Today’s teaching in the church does not foresee any development for humanity – we are and remain sinners, and already Adam and Eve were like us. Therefore, of course, there is no reason not to go back. The problems of mankind, reduced by the church to the sin problem, were the same, only we were not so distracted and still believed in something.

God, however, is a God of generations. Isaac builds on what Abraham learned. And since Jacob has imbibed many things with his mother’s milk, he too can move on again.

Do certain problems remain the same? But of course. Otherwise, the Bible would have no value, because it could not show us archetypal behaviors and how to deal with them.

And it is precisely the Bible that shows us that certain world views and approaches to solutions change, for Jesus came when the time had come: man was ready to have a new development goal set before him. Obedience to a law on stone tablets was replaced by personal responsibility, grace and forgiveness.

But the church gladly compromises: we have evolved until Jesus. Since then, everything remains the same. Hence the call: back to the cross. WWJD – what would Jesus do?

Jesus lived in a certain time and reacted to this time. He also challenged people at that time sometimes, even overtaxed them with concepts they could not yet grasp, but in measure, to put them on a track, to initiate a development that has brought us to where we are today: liberal inclusiveness only takes Jesus’ behavior towards the stranger further, be it in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the encounter with the Sido-phoenician woman, or the many meals with sinners and outcasts.

WWJD only works if we understand the stories archetypally. Who is our Samaritan today, our Sido-phoenician woman, our sinner and outcast? Or even the dissenter?

In his book God Perceptions, Jörg Zink says the following:

In the meantime, we have long since entered another epoch. If there is to be anything for our church today and tomorrow other than its insistence on the present state of its thinking and its gradual sinking into insignificance, it will have to face what is happening today in a different way than before.

Gotteswahrnehmungen, Jörg Zink, from German

In other words, only when the congregation frees itself from restorative nostalgia will it again become meaningful and world-changing, the bearer of God’s mission.

Published

By Ralph Rickenbach

Accompanyist | Pastor in Exile | Iconoclast — I am a Gallup certified CliftonStrengths coach and a Spiral Dynamics practitioner.