Homecoming Reflections: When Our Past Becomes Our Future

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Dan Boon headshotThe glue that binds a community together is the stories they share in common. And never is this more true than at Homecoming. We stand on this hill in the middle of stories. And the stories have names. Some of these are the stories of brave people of faith who died too young, like Michael Pretorius, Kyle Funky, Ace Wimbley and Donnie Smith. Others are stories of those who lived long and cast an even longer shadow, like A. B. Mackey, Homer Adams, Mildred Wynkoop and Ray Thrasher.

When we gather on the Hill each year, we tell these stories in so many ways. Their names are on buildings and rooms and fields and walkways and scholarships and plaques and signs. We will name them in alumni gatherings, pausing in collective grief for those who died this year, or since our last gathering. We don’t know them because we committed their name to memory. We know them because our story is woven into their story. They are the fabric of our lives.

I suppose that’s what makes Homecoming such a counterintuitive event on a university campus. Places like this are more invested in the future than in the past. We recruit the young, wide-eyed, hopeful high school graduate to spend a chapter of their life among us. Our funding gives them professors and coaches and RA’s and beds and meals and workout spaces and parking places and flu shots and counseling and jobs and careers. If you look at the daily output of labor on a university campus, it all seems to be about crafting a better future using the raw material of youth. We don’t tell Homecoming stories all year long, every day. We more often listen to the hopes and aspirations of the next generation as we seek to be their wise friends in the making of a life of significance. Most of us are more impacted by the future that-is-in-the-making than in the past that-is-in-the-remembering. Steve Hoskins may be the only person on campus who is more alive in the past than in the present… and I mean that as a high compliment.

I think about these things when I work on funding Trevecca’s mission. How do you convince the 95 percent of Trevecca’s alumni who never donate, but glowingly recall their formative days here, that the future generations deserve the same experiences that they had? Do you appeal to what they remember or what they wish to see created? Are they more alive in their past or their future? Are they more deeply motivated by being remembered through a naming opportunity gift or by enabling 10 new students through a donation to the university scholarship fund? Do they live in their past or future?

Maybe it’s a question already answered by Forrest Gump. He stands at Jenny’s grave contemplating life. “I don’t know if we each have a destiny or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”

Maybe Forrest is right. We live in our past and in our future at the same time – and this present moment is where they converge as a word, a deed, a thought, a memory, a hope.

What if our stringent effort to categorize life into past – present – future actually robs us of the combined benefit of all three experienced simultaneously.

In the words of a theological friend, “Life lived forward makes me a good Wesleyan – with belief in free will, covenant relationships, responsible obedience, heaven and hell consequences. Life looked at backwards makes me a good Calvinist - with everything seeming to have been predestined and eternally secure from the start.” Maybe that’s why even Wesley said there’s barely a hair’s breadth between the two, or as Forrest Gump said, “Maybe both is happening at the same time.”

When my mother died, I remember laying her to rest in a Mississippi graveyard named Hollywood Cemetery. This is a most profane name of a burial ground for a woman who staunchly never set foot inside a movie theatre. We took her body to Hollywood Cemetery and laid her to rest. Now she was in my past – in pictures and stories and memories. I wouldn’t call her, check on her, or drive 450 miles to see her here. But as I walked out of Hollywood Cemetery that day, an epiphany hit me. Her death had categorized her as passed away – a person of my past, a memory of my yesterday. But my deep belief in God made her, in the moment of her death, my future. She now awaits me in one of my own tomorrows. She is pictured as praying for me around the heavenly throne, cheering me on as one among a great cloud of faithful witnesses, a yet-to-be-bodily-resurrected-into-glorious-reality woman of God. So maybe the stories of Michael Pretorius and Kyle Funke and Ace Wembley and Donnie Smith and Homer Adams and A. B. Mackey and Mildred Wynkoop and Ray Thrasher and my mom and your friends – maybe we are not distancing them in our rearview mirror but moving toward them in a Homecoming yet to be.

Trevecca Homecoming is one of those rare times and places where the past becomes the future in ways that place ultimate importance on what we do in this present moment.

A 1986 hymn written to the tune of a 1784 traditional Welsh melody goes like this:

View the present through the promise
Christ will come again.
Trust despite the deepening darkness
Christ will come again.
Lift the world above its grieving
Through your watching and believing
In the hope past faiths conceiving.
Christ will come again.

Probe the present with the promise
Christ will come again.
Let your daily actions witness
Christ will come again.
Let your loving and your giving
And your justice and forgiving
Be a sign to all the living
Christ will come again.

Match the present to the promise
Christ will come again.
Make this hope your guiding premise
Christ will come again.
Pattern all your calculating
And the world you are creating
To the advent you are waiting
Christ will come again.


It’s a song that collapses past, present, and future into this moment. We learned this perspective on life from those who loved and served us. These saintly people are the fabric of our own story, and they are waiting for us.