Three little words. A short clear declaration the can launch us into untold adventures: “In the beginning,”…”I love you,”…”Once upon a time”. We are attuned at our deepest level to respond to these. For instance:
Once upon a time, a young woman in a fit of youthful passion defied her parents’ wishes and absconded with a rakish young man to a magical land that would bless their hearts’ longings. She was home from her first foray into the real world, freshman year of college, and far from a young man who had stolen her heart. He was likewise smitten and the distance was driving him to distraction. Her parents were not pleased with this turn of developments; he was, after all, a young man with all of the built-in perils of young men everywhere.
To her parents, his unforgivable offense was not that he was pining for their daughter, but rather that, without portfolio, he would stoop to hitchhiking in order to cross the miles. An argument between the girl and her parents led to an ultimatum to break things off. Wiping away tears, sitting in the kitchen, with her parents hovering over her, she placed a long-distance call to Mt. Ida, Arkansas, and gave him the heartbreaking news.
“Are they there?” he asked in hushed tones.
“Yes,” she replied trying to sound cryptic.
“Would you like to go get married?”
“Yes,” her voice quivering but trying not to give away the conspiracy.
“I’ll be there before morning.”
And so, at roughly 3 a.m. one mid-June morning, she quietly raised the window sill in her bedroom, tossed a bag and followed it. It was 1967; her Summer of Love had begun. By noon the next day an Oklahoma Justice of the Peace had said the words; and that’s how my mother and father came to be married.
The stories we tell are central to our identities: separately and together. I would argue they are the most important pieces of our identity. In a 2019 article in Forbes magazine, Angela Rodriquez tells us, “Storytelling is at the core of culture. It is how histories are passed down, how customs are shared and how traditions become endemic to a group.” Stories define us, partly because they are how we unify all the sensory input that we collect and partly because they allow us turn the ephemeral into the enduring.
Stories are, by their very nature, entirely true. Because we use them to explain the how and the why of us, they become as true as gravity and sunrise. Interestingly, this means that the specifics of the story may not be accurate but it doesn’t change their validity. Consider for one second how our memories vary from person to person and over time. Who said what, what they said, what they were wearing, even in what order, it all wiggles in the telling. Add in time and movement from one teller to another and the pieces in between “once upon a time” and “the end” can change and reform and change back. This doesn’t affect the veracity of the story one bit (at least from the perspective of an old English teacher).
Last Sunday we started a churchwide study called Testimony. It is designed to challenge us and help us to become more comfortable in telling our stories. As a people of God, that is one of our responsibilities. The last thing Jesus told the disciples was to go make more disciples—by telling the story. The story of a God who loved everyone and wanted everyone to be reconciled to Him. The story of a Savior who came to show them how to live, explained the heart of God, and sacrificed Himself to do what no person could do: redeem humanity. The story of a people who so profoundly changed that they would dedicate themselves to spreading the Gospel and glorifying God. The stories of Jesus and of those early disciples have been handed down from then until now. And they are absolutely true. They are capital “T”, “True”. And they define us.
I am who I am because two very young and impulsive people did a wildly impulsive thing. It makes for great story. I writing this down because those people grew up and made sure that their children understood the stories of their God and our church. I bet you have stories like this as well. Let’s go tell them.
Lay Servant, Child of God