Symbols of Our Stories

I enjoyed working this fine Sunday afternoon at the Lutheran Heritage Center. Upon arriving I walked around, and after 16 years as the director here, I am still amazed at the new things I notice—even in exhibits I’ve created myself. As a historian in material culture, I am naturally fascinated by objects, documents, art, and photography. For me, the symbols of our life help tell our stories. You can walk through this museum, and without reading one caption, you can experience the symbols of deep faith, hard work, German culture, and early American settlement. Walking through this site, I could feel the rich depth of family, church, and friendship. After all these years, I still get goosebumps when I see the Wittenberg church cornerstone—with the flood water damaged—but still recognizable items which were chosen as symbols of a hopeful congregation. I feel a strong emotional heart tug every time I see the antique lute that Vernon Meyr brought here from Germany decades before this site was completed. The symbols of steel and concrete greeted me as I drove in the driveway, reflecting the strength and integrity of the museum’s expansion project.

At the end of my walk through, I ended up at the door of my office and did a big pause. This little room is cluttered with symbols of who I am. I sometimes have a bit too much pride in my own ego NOT being in the center of the mission of this site. I demand that my ego takes a backseat here, but my story IS symbolized here. I was gobsmacked as I stood in my doorway, to see how important it must be for me to have symbols of my own displayed here: my little collections of Putz Houses, German smokers, and Williamsburg Pottery; my love of Mickey Mantle and anything ‘baseball’—represented by a bat from the nearby Ridge baseball factory and a Mantle book Warren Schmidt bought for me at the library book sale; a beautiful cross created by Bobby Schuessler from wood during the Frohna church restoration; Poker Enke’s radio that started my fascination with antique radios; Native American mementos from friends; and my prized symbols of those on this team who are no longer here because they have passed or moved on to new things. Symbols of who I am and who I love are more evident in this place than I realized—where I have been welcomed, have worked hard, and have helped create a path for the story symbols of this culture to be told. As I stopped and paused today, I realized that this office is a collage of the stories that have made me, and the symbols of the relationships which created this beautiful site.

Why do we spend all of this time and energy on collecting and displaying material culture? For me, it’s because these symbols help us remember the stories of where we came from. I once heard Gerard Fiehler tell a reporter, “We have to know where we have been, to know where we are going.” I’m sure other great minds have stated that, but I give Gerard full ownership, because that is the root of why we are here doing this work.

The bottom line in this whole “symbols to stories“ rant comes down to orientation. In these unsettled times, seeing a 200 year old lute, might remind us that Luther said, “next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” It reminds us of the stuff that matters! Please share with me in these comments or on the FB link, the symbols you have in your home that remind you of your stories.

Love, Carla Jordan

P.S. It was also delightful to host guests today from Michigan, Alabama, and the Chicago region. I also had conversations with our beloved team—it was a great day.

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