When I was growing up, on our birthdays my parents would always recount the story of our birth. Though each of our stories is different, none is particularly dramatic, but the details say something about my parent’s personalities and our place within the family. I think one reason we would repeat these stories is that they remind us about an important day in our family’s history, and they are part of what it means to be in our family. Perhaps your family has stories like this too, and maybe also the mildly embarrassing ones that always come out when you bring a friend or a significant other home for the first time. I was thinking about these kind of community stories when I was reading Gary Selby’s book, Martin Luther King and the Rhetoric of Freedom: The Exodus Narrative in America’s Struggle for Civil Rights.
This book is an academic discussion of the role of the Exodus story for African American Christians during the Civil Rights struggle. As you might know, this story has been an important part of African American culture beginning during the days of slavery. It’s no surprise that a story of God’s attention to and rescue of oppressed slaves has resonated with this community for centuries. Selby argues in this book that the story gave a structure of meaning to many elements of the Civil Rights struggle: perseverance, nonviolence, faith, even marching. I was struck by how central this story of God’s faithfulness to God’s people was and continues to be to a group of God’s people today.
I think it’s interesting that we ask people more often their favorite bible verse instead of their favorite bible story. Favorite verses tend to be pithy commands, stories are more perplexing and complicated. I wonder what you would learn about people’s lives and their callings if you asked them about their favorite stories instead. I wonder what our church would be like if we focused on telling stories more.
One thing we do to remember one important story is enact communion. Much like 1950s African Americans participated in God’s story of deliverance through literally walking, we participate in God’s grace by literally eating and drinking. I like to think of creeds as a kind of re-telling of the salvation story as well. But the Bible is full of other stories, stories that might also guide us in understanding who we are as God’s people.
One story that is important to me is the story of Ruth and Naomi. I like that story because it reminds me of God’s faithfulness in bad circumstances, and how sometimes God’s faithfulness is expressed through loyal friendship. I also love to struggle with the book of Habakkuk. I love that Habakkuk asks so many hard questions, and that God responds, even if he doesn’t respond the way I would like. I come back to that story a lot, in part because I don’t understand it, and I think God has more to teach me there.
What stories are important to you? What stories steer your community in their relationship with God?