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What Are Your Soul Souvenirs?

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Whether you are raised on the traditional hymns or the new worship music, either one becomes a part of who you are. It’s hard to let them go, but there might be a reason for that.

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A professor and mentor, with a pretty thick Dutch accent, once told me that if you emigrate from one country to another after the age of about twenty, you never lose your accent. If instead you go from one language to another earlier in life, then it’s easier to adapt, perhaps because your brain is still elastic and coming into maturity.

Actors have a way of faking an accent. You might be watching a movie and seeing an actor playing an archetypal American, then you go look them up and you find they are British. You might feel a little foolish that you didn’t pick up on the fact that the actor wasn’t American at all. Perhaps you then find an online interview, and there they are, as their everyday self, speaking in a lovely British accent. 

Why do our accents stick with us no matter how long we live in a country with a different language, provided we transitioned to that new language in adulthood? If an actor can fake it, why can’t we make that adjustment on an everyday level? The simple truth is, we can’t, unless we’re faking it. Our first language is our first language. It’s more a part of who we are than we realize, and we just can’t strip it away—perhaps unless we try to totally lose ourselves.

Religion is like that. The faith culture in which you were raised, regardless of how intentional, is your first language of faith. It’s more a part of you than you realize. You can’t just strip it away. Just think about the “worship wars” in some of our churches today. Some folks simply can’t let go of the old hymns, while others are steeping themselves in contemporary praise songs.

I call these soul souvenirs. Whether you are raised on the traditional hymns or the new worship music, either one becomes a part of who you are. Or maybe it's a Bible story or a favorite Bible verse or a whole set of Bible verses. It’s hard to let them go, and perhaps you shouldn’t.

A souvenir is a thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event. In the same vein, the artifacts of our religious upbringing remind us of who we are, where we’ve been, and the things that have happened to us. They go deep into our individual experience, and as wide as the collective experience of the rich community in which we were raised.

Like a memento or object on the shelf that has great sentimental value, you really don’t want to throw out a loved article of faith, at least not quite every one. No matter how long you’ve neglected these souvenirs and let them collect dust, they’ve always been in plain view in your house of identity. Fortunately, you don’t have to throw them all out, because you’ll never fully accomplish that task, try as you might. Instead, you might be able to dust them off, maybe repair them a little--some will definitely need that, or even put them somewhere else where you can see them in a new light. It might be good if you try.

The really cool thing about souvenirs is that you can collect new ones, too, for as long as you live. You keep adding to the whole that is you.

David Morris PhD.jpg
David R. Morris

I work to glean helpful information to bring you new ways to move forward spiritually. I'm an independent scholar, writer, and longtime religious publishing professional. My goal is to help us all rewire our American religious imagination. That's something to lean into.

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