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Reflections from Rev. Emily Gage

What Does It Mean To Be a People of Story?

I pulled out one of my all-time favorite books the other day, which is not a story, but rather a series of essays. It’s called Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner). It is, in part, about preaching and telling your truth, and he talks about all the stories that are part of who we are. He describes a group of ministers, in the past, embarking on a journey: “You can kiss your family and your friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, but a world lives in you. You are a world. All those men were worlds in their time with their whiskers on their chins, some of them, their clean shirts, their steel-rimmed glasses, their freshly polished shoes. As surely as each of them brought a toothbrush with him, he also brought with him his loves and hates, his fears of death and his fears of life, his anxieties, his longings, his pride, his dark doubts. Each carried his world on his back the way a snail carries his shell.” I love Buechner’s prose in general, and I love this in particular because it is such a great reminder of how much we carry within our hearts and minds, a great reminder of how who we are is, in part, made up of all our stories.

Our theme for exploration this summer (July and August) is story; we have engaged this theme before, but it is so incredibly rich that it felt like a good one to revisit. We’ll have lots of different Unitarian Universalist voices sharing their stories with us via preaching these coming weeks; perhaps the summer schedule, in which our programming slows down, will allow for more spacious time for sharing our own stories with one another. It’s always enriching to even just catch a glimpse of the world that someone else is carrying with them; the more we can do this, the stronger our relationships and our community can become.

I love listening to stories in person, and I love reading stories, too. One of the great things about stories is that sometimes you read things that completely and totally resonate with your own experiences. I love that. It’s so important to know and feel like you are not alone. Happily there are more and more books that reflect the diversity of experiences of children, these days. (Check out Their website declares: ‘Imagine a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.’)

One of the other great things about stories is when you get invited into experiences that are completely and totally different from your own. I love that, too. It’s so important to understand that there are perspectives that differ from our own. Oak Park Public Library has a summer reading program for kids in which each hour of reading earns kids a bead. There’s a special component called Reading without Walls, in which you can earn a bead for each of the following challenges: “Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about. Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun (a chapter book, graphic novel, book in verse, etc.)”

So many stories, so much to explore and reflect on. So many relationship to build through listening to stories. Buechner, in Telling the Truth, talks about the preacher’s call, but it’s really about what sharing our own stories can do. “Drawing on nothing fancier than the poetry of his own life, let him use words and images that make the surface of our own lives transparent to eh truth that lies deep within them, which is the wordless truth of who we are.”

I look forward to hearing your stories this summer!