By Amanda Highben
I just finished reading The Two Towers, the second book in J.R.R.’s classic and beloved trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Towards the end of the book as the hobbits Frodo and Sam are drawing closer to Mount Doom where Frodo intends to cast the ring into the fire, they rest briefly in a dark crevice and take “what they expected would be their last meal before they went down into the Nameless Land, maybe the last meal they would ever eat together.”
As they attempt to gather their strength before moving on, Sam says to Frodo, “I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and Ring!’ And they’ll say: ‘Yes, that’s one of my favorite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.’” Frodo, knowing he could never have made it this far without his dear friend replies, “But you’ve left out one of the chief characters: Samwise, the stouthearted.”
Like Frodo and Sam—and Tolkien too, of course—we know the great value of stories. Families have stories they love to tell again and again, stories about vacations when everything that could go wrong did just that, stories about making it to the hospital just in time for a child’s birth, stories of how grandparents were married while grandpa was home from the war on furlough, or the Christmas when dad was unemployed but the neighbors still banded together to make sure the children would have gifts.
Stories shape and define us; they help us to understand our identities and keep us connected with those we love, reminding us that we’re not alone in this world. As Christians, of course, we belong to the body of Christ and together we are characters in God’s ongoing narrative of salvation. This story, God’s story and ours, reveals to us who we are and to whom we belong. We are forgiven, redeemed children of God, sisters and brothers in Christ, and we cling to this truth in a world that so often tries to define our worth according to standards of wealth, power, status, strength or beauty. Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber (who also spoke to our youth in New Orleans at the National Youth Gathering this summer) once wrote that the Gospel of Jesus floods our lives with worth and meaning. “Nothing else gets to tell us who we are,” she said. *
Because St. John’s is also a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the ELCA’s story is our story too. We belong to a church that for 25 years now since its founding in 1987 has served the world God so loves through the proclamation of the gospel, feeding the hungry, advocating for justice and peace, nurturing our children as they grow in faith, and helping churches, cities and even nations to rebuild after natural disasters.
Of course, this list isn’t all-inclusive and there are many more examples that help to tell the story of who we are as the ELCA. To read several such stories, visit http://www.livinglutheran.com/stories/. Also, check-out the ELCA’s 25th Anniversary timeline under the theme Always Being Made New that’s now posted on a bulletin board in our fellowship hall.
Finally, because I’m still relatively new at St. John’s I’m eager to hear your stories. There are few more effective ways for people to build relationships than through the telling and hearing of personal stories. Indeed, one of my favorite quotes on this subject is from writer and pastor Eugene Peterson: “You enter into the soul, the spirit of somebody else, by listening to them.” I’ve been privileged to listen to the stories you’ve shared with me thus far and I look forward to the ones I’ve still yet to hear. Whether we realize it or not, the practice of telling others our stories is a sacred act God uses to weave us together.
After all, how could it be otherwise, considering that we believe in Jesus, the Word made flesh?
If you’d like to read more of Pastor Nadia’s words, she blogs at