By Rev. Jeanne Randall-Bodman, Pastor
February 8, 2023
I have been thinking a lot lately about the backstories of our lives, the often unexamined stories of our ancestors that have brought us to where we are today. As many of us do, I’ve gotten curious about my family history whenever we’ve lost someone from our older generation. I have a vivid memory from the time when my siblings and I were clearing out our childhood home. I found a whole trove of letters written to and from my maternal grandfather – exchanges with his parents, siblings, and the sweetheart who eventually became his wife. I felt a sense of dislocation as I said to my sister “we come from really pious people.” She found my surprise hilarious -- “Really, Reverend ?”
But I was surprised.
I grew up in a church-going family, but I wouldn’t have described us as especially pious. But I wondered if the piety that was so clear to me in the letters had informed our family life in ways that I couldn’t see from the inside. If that piety and faithfulness of those ancestors had given me a bedrock. If it had perhaps also kept me from questioning too vigorously what I had been taught.
These questions of ancestral backstory have also arisen in two groups I have been participating in: Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s “Reckoning with Racism” project, and Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good’s, “Wrestling with the Truth of Colonization” initiative. In each project participants have
been asked to uncover stories about the place where we live/worship and how we got here. We’ve been invited to explore when and how our ancestors arrived on this continent, who was here before our ancestor’s arrival, and what happened next. Some few in the group have indigenous ancestors, some are the descendants of people who were brought forcibly and enslaved. Some of us come from people who were forced by war, pogroms, or famine to leave homes they did not want to leave. But many -- most -- of us are descended from people who came to this continent as colonists or settlers. I wonder what combination of courage, resilience, arrogance, and eurocentrism has come down to me from my settler ancestors.
As we enter the season of Lent later this month, I invite you to join me in asking questions about the backstories of our lives and the ancestors whose stories may yet be forming you. Together we’ll continue to explore the stories of our faith -- stories made to create light and freedom for all.