Storytelling is one of our values at First UMC, Austin. Stories of lived experience carry an authenticity that draws us in, enticing us to listen. In listening, we respect the personhood of our neighbor. We gain understanding of their feelings, their motives, their triumphs and struggles, their wounds, and their character. Explicit or not, with deep listening, we inevitably discover God’s presence and action woven among the threads of our stories.
On the eve of this July 4
Independence Day, I’m thinking of some of the unnumbered stories of America:
Plymouth Rock and the Trail of Tears
The Middle Passage and the Freedom Rides
Orville Wright’s flight and Neil Armstrong’s step
WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan
Hugo Black and J. Edgar Hoover
Stonewall, the AIDS Quilt, and Pulse
Mad Men and #MeToo
Sutherland Springs and Marjory Stoneman Douglas
The tapestry of “the” story of America is as layered as it is unfinished. It is the already and the not yet, the both/and, the lie and the promise, the debt and the fulfillment, the “good old days” and the re-imagining, and the disappointment and the hope.
At First UMC, Austin, we hold the stories of veterans and of objectors, of those wounded on the quad and of the shooter in the tower, and of 60+ year anniversaries and of those recently separated.
As we celebrate this 4
of July, we should give thanks to God for the blessings that come from living in America and for the parts of the story we occasionally get to write that bring to light our best selves and our country’s highest ideals. I am also reminded of these words spoken during another tumultuous chapter of American history:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
–First Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln, 1861
For us, the one to whose story we pay particular attention said, “My kingdom is not from this world” (John 18:36). Therefore, we must never mistake the benefits of the privilege we derive from our presence in the U.S., nor be so caught up in the trappings of patriotism or capitalism that we confuse or conflate America with God’s promised kin-dom. For first and foremost “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). The transformation Christ works in our hearts and with our hands is to make a new heaven and a new earth, not a new America. Therefore, we Christians are “aliens and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), even in our own country.
-Pastor Michael Mumme