Reconisdering Lineages

I was recently working with a student on the Ellis Island website.  He was doing some work for history and was getting quite excited.  He’d found records of his ancestor’s immigration to America.  This child had been born in Russia and adopted in the U.S. as an infant.  The records were not those of his birth family but those of his adopted family.    And the child– normally a very unmotivated and hard-to reach student– was fascinated.

As I began reading Mark 1 today, this student came into my mind.  As you may know, Mark 1 begins with Jesus’ lineage.

It’s almost a stereotype: long lists of who sired who is the very definition of what some people find boring in the bible.  I’d be a liar if I claimed that I read them with same intensity that I’d bring to Jesus’ words.  But I think there’s a lesson floating around in my student’s excitement.

I didn’t ask him, but I suspect what might have been fascinating for him is the idea that he was confronted with the reality that there were people who came before.  Abstractly, we all know that we had great grandparents, and great grand parents, and great grand parents.  But it’s hard, I think, for any of us, to really recognize that this nearly endless string of people were real people with flaws and talents and dreams and fears,  until we are confronted with evidence for their existence.

The mere fact that our ancestors exist is not nearly as interesting as the realization that they made decisions which impact us today.  If we are not adopted, they even carried some of the genes which we carry today.   Their is this unbroken line, this invisible cord that links us.

I wonder if the people at Jesus time, and the generations after, I wonder if those lineages impacted them in the same way.  I wonder if the lists of names, dates, and marriages in Mathew and everywhere else in the bible were a way of not only making the figures seem real but of also connecting them to the people reading.

To the best of my knowledge, I have no Jewish ancestry.  At first blush, it might seem that the lineages are therefore irrelevant to me.

But that student I mentioned before?  He was adopted.  He had no biological ties to the records he was discovering.  Yet I don’t think he could have been more excited, even if he had been born into his adopted family.

And so it is with me: I’m adopted, too.  I’m adopted into Christ’s family.  And if you follow him, you are, too.

We may not carry the same genes as those people, listed in those lineages.  We may not be closely biologically related.  But we are family anyway.  They are interconnected with each other, and also interconnected with us.  They made decisions which impact us, they changed the world.

And maybe this isn’t motivation enough to do an exhaustive reading of every lineage in the bible.  But it gives me pause to read them a little closer than I might.  These people are my ancestors, after all.  They walked the earth, and they breathed the air, and they had hopes, and dreams, and fears…  and that’s a pretty amazing thing.



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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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