I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
Like many in my generation, I grew up with my parents listening to Terry Wogan on the radio only to find myself as an adult tuning in to him years later. I was not alone this week in greeting the news of his passing with a sense of nostalgia as well as sadness.
We’ve heard similar sentiments following the recent deaths of Lemmy, David Bowie and Glenn Frey, where it’s been clear how music significantly shapes the formative years of fans in a way that remains long after those years have passed.
Nor do other areas of popular culture escape the nostalgic brush. The release of Dad’s Army this week is only the tip of the cinematic iceberg. While some criticised Star Wars: The Force Awakens for being too much like its 1977 counterpart, if anything its similarity in theme and plot reinforced a sense of nostalgia for the original audience and their children. This year will also see recycled Marvel and DC Comics heroes, along with the third installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise.
Then, think of the success of Penguin’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups’ which also trade on the nostalgia of those of a certain age. Think of the market for retro sweets and toys, or TV’s love for period dramas. Examples could be multiplied.
While nostalgia often comes down to simple appreciation for the things that have made us who we are, some worry that it stifles creativity. More personally, nostalgia can exaggerate the happiness of the past, which is remembered as stable when it was perhaps anything but. At its worst, nostalgia can carry its original sense of being homesick, longing for a different time and place, yearning to return ‘home’ – but to a home that never quite existed.
Nostalgia demonstrates our longing for a different world. Perhaps it reflects something of our ‘homeless’ existence between Eden on one side and eternity on the other.
Wonderfully, the good news of what God has done in Jesus provides the ultimate answer to such yearning and homesickness. It allows us to take seriously the past, to celebrate it where appropriate, but not to idealise it. And the gospel directs us not just backwards but forwards, neither hankering after a time gone by nor battening down the hatches until Jesus returns, but living now in the light of the one who is ‘the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8).