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I have been shaped by the human story. My book shelves are stacked with autobiographies. My dining room hutch is adorned with teapots and dishes owned by women who have loved me and are now gone. As a pastor, people share with me their deepest stories. I am forever shaped by these encounters.
I have looked for God within the beautiful and terrible, mundane and miraculous, human story. For this reason, I have never read the Bible seeking rules, treating its words as a prescription for how to live. Instead, like a forensic scientist of relationship, I have examined the Bible’s account of individuals and communities for what it means to be human and live fully. I have savored each glimpse into a biblical story that reveals how human love transforms, hate cripples, and desperation guts. I have read and studied all in hopes that I might discover how to live in relationship with God.
Brittany Packnett Cunningham wrote in Time magazine after John Lewis’ death: “Our elders become our ancestors ... What kind of ancestors will we be? Daily, the sum of our future ancestry is being totaled. Will we choose mere words? Or, as Lewis compatriot and fellow hero the Rev. C.T. Vivian reminds us, will it be ‘in that action that we find out who we are’?”
Cunningham’s words have been a burr in my mind: elders, ancestors, futures, words, action. I have wrapped my life in the stories of others-- those I know and those I do not, those who are famous, infamous, and unknown. Their stories peek out at me from a bookshelf, call to me from verses, and even speak to me as I pour tea from a well used tea pot. Yet I have never considered how in this very moment, I am shaping the story that one day I will pass onto the next generation. I have never imagined that I am my very own story and that my story will impact the living and loving of those who follow me.
In these disorienting times it is difficult to know just how to live our story. How shall we not just post about justice, but act for justice, as C.T. Vivian urges? How will I live as a faithful disciple in a world that has branded Christianity as exclusive? How can I enact inclusive Christianity, and not just think it? My questions have led me back to the same spiritual practice: studying the human story as a road map forward. Every day I am learning how to be a better ancestor, because I am surrounded by my own saints-as-ancestors, and I live in their stories.
We can do the work we are called to do because others before us, like John Lewis, and the less famous Mr. White and Kay, have tilled the soil. For this reason, I will share with you during the coming months snippets of human stories that have shaped me, from famous leaders like John Lewis to unknown saints like Mr. White and Kay, from self-proclaimed Christians to those of other faiths--and those who were unsure of their faith. My hope is that these stories will inspire us to continue the larger human story of progress: of a society that ultimately bends toward a God of love and justice . . . even now, or especially now.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.