Foundational Stories

storytellingAll of us tell stories. Sometimes were are the hero of the stories about ourselves. Stories define us. To know someone well is to know his or her story—the experiences that have shaped them, the trials and turning points that have tested them. When we want someone to know us, we share stories of our childhoods, our families, our school years, our first loves, and so on. And there in milieu are the stories that inspire us. I wrote about one story that inspired me.

As stories are told and retold, some are contested. Just ask any adult children of the same family to recount childhood memories. How often is the epilogue, “Well… that’s not exactly how it happened.” But sometimes stories are told often enough that the story becomes oral history important to the family. It might not match up to the actual events, but then, at one level the good story is meant to reveal something of importance.

Families tell stories about themselves. I am privileged as a priest in this Virginia parish to be called upon to support graveside services for people being buried at Quantico National Cemetery. Over my time here I have heard stories about amazing women and men who served their country, raised families, and lived new lives after their military service ended. During the service I will often ask who is the youngest person present. Many times it is one of the great-grandchildren. I ask them if they know all the stories about their loved one. The know some, but no all. And they won’t unless someone tells them. “This is a story about great grand dad…” The stories carry the message – this is who we are, the way we carry ourselves in the world, and more.

Yesterday I mused about stories and our intuitive responses to the stories that we hold to be important and thus, in their own way, become formative in how we view ourselves and the lens through which we see the world. For the people of Texas there is perhaps no story as central to Texan identity as the Alamo. I know that for my own part the 1960 John Wayne movie The Alamo was riveting in so many ways. During the summer that followed we would want to re-enact the events of the Alamo… we never got past the arguing who would play Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, or Col. Travis – and no one wanted to play the part of the Mexican general Santa Ana.

I had several burials at Quantico this week and so stories have been on my mind when I ran across this article from Politico: The 185-year-old Battle That Still Dominates Texas Politics. There is a large part of the article that pertains to Texas politics, but the article fascinates me in the way defining stories are used, misused, and the reactions people have when foundational stories change, threaten to change, or don’t change at all – when they are found to be incomplete, missing nuance…. and maybe just not the way we were told or remember. “Well… that’s not exactly how it happened.”

What is your foundational story? What are the stories that you pass on to the next generation? And maybe more challenging, how does your foundational story integrate to the greatest story ever told – the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ?

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