“Our lives are our story, and our story is our life. Story is the narrative thread of our experience – not what literally happens, but what we make out of what happens, what we tell each other and what we remember.”
In 2009, I was invited by the Valparaiso Practicing our Faith project to write the story of my own personal faith journey. When I wrote my book, “From the Sanctuary to the Streets”, I started with the demise of Houston based energy company Enron. If I had not been forced to leave everything that mattered to me behind and move to Richmond Virginia, my story would have unfolded very differently. It was one of the most significant events of my life even though I did not know it at the time.
This December we are starting a new chapter in the unfolding story of Embrace Richmond with the expansion of our work into a new neighborhood. As a part of our fundraising efforts, I wrote the story of Embrace and produced this video.
The story of Embrace starts with my first encounter with a homeless woman who became the inspiration behind the start of Embrace Richmond. This encounter was the catalyst for everything that came after it. It was a critical encounter that is part of our DNA as an organization.
To understand who I am, you have to understand where I came from. To understand the ministry of Embrace Richmond, you have to understand where it came from. Likewise the Gospel writers knew that to understand the significance of Jesus and his ministry, the reader first needed to understand where Jesus came from – his back story.
We in the Christian tradition are blessed to have not one but four accounts about the life of Jesus and each of the writers has elected to start the story in a different place.
- Matthew starts us off with a genealogy clearly defining Jesus as a descendent of Abraham through David. The interesting thing about Matthew’s genealogy is the number of non-Jewish women who are listed in the genealogy – Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba. Royal bloodlines but a hint of what was to come in the unfolding story of Jesus from Matthew’s perspective.
- Mark starts us off with the words of the Prophet Isaiah foretelling the coming of John the Baptizer who would baptize with water and who would prepare the way for Jesus who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. There is no geology in Mark and no birth narrative. The story of Jesus begins with the baptism of Jesus which marks the beginning of his earthly ministry.
- Luke gives us the longest and most detailed birth narrative starting with the miracle of John the Baptist’s conception. From the appearance of the angle of the Lord to Zechariah to Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel, the opening chapter of Luke is about God intervening in human history in a way never before experienced. For Luke the story started at conception.
- John starts his story in an entirely different place – with creation itself. According to John, Jesus was with God from the beginning and “all things came into being through him….And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Jesus incarnation and earthly ministry is just one chapter in a much grander narrative that starts at the creation of the universe.
So who is right? Where does the story of Jesus start? I believe for Matthew it started with the covenant God made with Abraham, for Mark with Jesus earthly ministry, for Luke at conception and for John at creation. I also believe they are all equally accurate in their starting place.
As a writer, storyteller, and speaker, I approach each audience from a different starting place. If I am speaking to suburbanites, I start with how I went from the suburbs to the city. If I am speaking to individuals who are already working in the city, I start with the story of my formerly homeless friend who wanted to give back. If I am speaking to native Texans, I start in Houston with the demise of Enron. It is all the same story, just told from a different starting place.
So where does your story begin? When did the Jesus story first intertwine with your own narrative? How has your encounter with the Christ, shaped your identity and your unfolding life narrative? Who needs to hear your Jesus story? I would be honored if you would share it with me.
This post is a part of an advent synchroblog on story. Read more post from this series below:
Carol Kuniholm writing at Words Half Heard
Jeremy Myers tells us about Santa Clausette
Liz Dyer celebrates Dreams Do Come True
Leah Sophia digs in with Planting Hope
Glen Hager reveals a story of Christmas Surgery
Kathy Escobar wrestles with holiday expectations