Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children another generation.
--Joel 1:3 NRSV
In their book Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon write the following about the stories of our lives that each of us gets to tell:
By telling [our] stories, we come to see the significance and coherence of our lives as a gift, as something not of our own heroic creation, but as something that must be told to us, something we would not have known without the community of faith. The little story I call my life is given cosmic, eternal significance as it is caught up within God’s larger account of history…. The significance of our lives is frighteningly contingent on the story of another.
This past Sunday I preached on the parable of the workers in the vineyard (or what I think it should be called—the parable of the generous landowner). As I said in the sermon, it’s an offensive story about a landowner who pays his workers the same whether they worked one hour at the end of the day or twelve hours. It is meant to confront us with God’s grace which is offensive to our modern individualistic and capitalistic mindsets. We like to identify with the workers who complain about getting paid for a full day’s work unlike those who only worked an hour, but if we are at all self-aware, we must admit that we are the late-coming workers who only work an hour but receive a full day’s pay more often than we wish to admit.
The Japanese-American social activist Yuri Kochiyama wrote, “Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it. We are all part of one another. “ We may not wish to admit it, but our stories reveal that we did not do it on our own. We travelled our journey only with the influence and assistance of more people than we can count.
In my own story, my birth and survival were the result of many different people. I was born 3 months premature in 1972, a time when preemies had low survival rates. I survived because of the doctors and nurses who cared for me those weeks I remained in the hospital. I survived because of the inventors, researchers and engineers who designed the incubators I remained in. I survived because of the people who built a hospital in Florissnat, MO—the taxes paid, the donations given, the construction crews who built it, the architect who designed it, the people who worked there, all those who paid their bills to keep it in operation. I survived because my grandmother was in a prayer circle at her church in Arkansas who prayed for me to live. I survived because the church my father served as pastor prayed for me as well. I lived because of the hundreds and thousands of people whose actions directly and indirectly enabled me to live.
My entire life has been shaped by choices I did not make and people who directly and indirectly influenced me. I had no control over what family I or country I was born into or what skin color I possessed. Each of those and more determined the opportunities I would have and shaped the choices I have made. All along the way, teachers, ministers, church members, neighbors, friends, enemies, writers, thinkers, media personalities, journalists and politicians all rubbed off on me for better or worse and shaped who I am and what choices I have made. There is no way to count the number of people who have shaped me.
Our individual choices and actions matter—of course they do. Yet, even if our choices were to act differently than the values of our families or the context we were raised in, all those factors still influenced the choices we make in a negative or positive way. We have made our choices and actions not in some sterile lab environment apart from all other variables but the exact opposite. We have made our choices and actions influenced by millennia of culture and history that shape our perceptions in ways that we are conscious of and in even more ways we are not aware.
If you had to tell your story, who would you name as the people who shaped who you are? How long would your list be?
Somewhere in your story—maybe everywhere in your story—God peeks over the shoulder of a person who influenced you along the way and winks at you. In the midst of all these people and situations that shape us, God works weaving our stories together like a master weaver inserting beautiful pieces of thread into a pattern that becomes a masterpiece!
Grace and Peace,
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