Do you know what Desperate Dan, Eleanor Rigby and David Bowie have in common?
They are all the subject of statues in different parts of the country; in Dundee, Liverpool and Aylesbury respectively.
Statues are seen as an important aspect of our culture; often they represent people who have made their mark in times past; sometimes they might trigger a happy childhood memory or prompt us to recall the meaning we attach to a well-loved song.
On occasions, as the protests of recent weeks have drawn to our attention, a statue can speak a sober warning from history, urging us not to follow in the footsteps of our forebears.
It was the Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana who wisely observed: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Often a memorial will reveal an aspect of local history that would otherwise remain hidden.
Most mornings in recent months I’ve walked past the bronze sculpture of Georgina Baroness Mount-Temple, situated near the Cliff Railway Café on Babbacombe Downs. Until recently I didn’t know why it was there.
Erected in 1903, two years after Georgina’s death, it serves as a reminder of at least one thing that was important to her.
The narrow moat around the base of the statue was for animals such as dogs and birds to drink water from; the bowl higher up was suitable for horses; This speaks of Baroness Mount-Temple’s concern for animal welfare.
She was one of the early patrons of the RSPCA and also campaigned against vivisection.
The Bible reminds me that men and women have always been helped by the visual reminders that statues and the like have provided.
I recall as a child in church singing a hymn that contained this rather strange statement: “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” Before its meaning was explained to me, I wondered why we were singing a hymn about Scrooge!
Actually, the word ‘Ebenezer’ refers to an incident in the Old Testament, in 1 Samuel 7:12, where we’re told that after a particular victory over an enemy, “The prophet Samuel took a stone and set it up between the towns of Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying: ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’.” The word Ebenezer means ‘stone of help’.
In setting up this stone statue, Samuel was leaving a physical reminder that would be visible for years to come.
When subsequent generations would walk past that spot, or enjoy a picnic nearby, and children would ask their parents what that large stone was doing there, they would be told of how, in that particular time of need, God, as he had so often done in days gone by, had come to the rescue of the Israelites.
Seeing the stone sparked the memory, and then the story would be told of the Lord’s care and concern for his people.
‘Remembering’ is a significant tenet of the Christian faith. The hymns and songs that we sing in church are full of reminders of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Some of the choruses I learnt in Sunday School didn’t really grip me at the time but in adult life there have been plenty of occasions when those words, stored in my memory banks, have come back to my thinking and the truth conveyed in them has encouraged and helped me.
Jesus himself understood how forgetful we can be, and so he often underlined the point he was making by doing something memorable.
When he was teaching his disciples about what it means to be a servant of others, he got down on his knees with a bowl of water and a towel and washed their feet.
I imagine that was an event they’d never forget.
And Jesus shared bread and wine with the disciples to help them keep the significance of his life-giving sacrifice at the forefront of their thinking,
As they ate and drank together, Jesus said: “This is my body broken for you; this is my blood poured out for you.”
In the simple act of eating and drinking I am given a daily reminder of the extent of the Lord’s love for me, and why I’ve put my trust in him.