Stories have always been one of my favorite aspects of life. Learning about family members I didn’t have the chance to meet. Gaining appreciation for where family and friends have come from. Reading the stories of Scripture and examining how people in the Christian tradition have grown and been shaped over the years.
Perhaps that is why I loved and held tightly to the core biblical posture of Sankofa as I learned about it Bible College. My professor referenced the Akan language of Gahan to teach us Sankofa, a teaching that reminds us that “we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can be reclaimed, revived, preserved, and perpetuated.” Sankofa has shaped a my theology in countless ways over the past ten years.
As Calvary – Denver begins to enter a season of telling our story, individual and collective, I am reminded of Sankofa yet again. It seems to me telling our story has become a lost art. There is less time to share about our pasts and how we have been shaped by different life experiences or events. Often when we do tell our story we tell it in a linear capacity – birth, childhood, adolescents, adulthood, death – rather than the winding ways life takes us. Whether that winding way is the great loves of your life, the dreams you courageously followed, trips you’ve taken, or even the seasons of life that cross over timelines. The wisdom of Sankofa for me is that I am not the fullest of self without claiming my past and allowing it to shape me, while it guides me to the healthiest expression of self. In my experience when we forget to tell our stories it is harder to live in the present or understand why things impact us the way they do.
It can be a scary thing to share our story with someone. Will they respect it, will they mock us, will they dismiss it? The flip of the coin, though, is that they will honor it, they will celebrate and cry with us, and they will sit in the story telling with us. Telling our story is worth the risk. Think of the world we could have if we valued one another’s stories more. Perhaps more conversations would be had in place of arguments because we have learned where the other person is coming from. Imagine how your story could be the bridge to cross ideological lines between another and yourself.
The stories of my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, nieces and nephews, friends, mentors, colleagues, strangers have shaped my life. The stories of Scripture, the early church, reformers, new monasticism, emergents have transformed my faith. All of these have filtered in and out of my story and in every season of life I am learning to tell my story once more.