For a fan of comic books and graphic novels like myself, few things inspire excitement like an origin story. How did this superhero gain their powers? What led to the zombie outbreak? What led to this character’s choice to choose evil rather than good? These questions, and a multitude of others, drive the narrative of development.
Comparatively, our own origin stories can feel less compelling. Mine? Born at Dunlap Memorial Hospital. Grew up on Back Massillon Road. Started school at North Elementary. Attended the now-demolished junior high, which a building that formerly housed the high school. Joined the church at Augsburg Lutheran. All in Orrville, Ohio. You’ve probably never heard of it, and if you have, you've probably just read about it on the back of a Smucker's jar or in Bobby Knight's biography.
But when I reflect on my life, and the way that I lived it, it was never a boring endeavor. Back Massillon Road might not have the same historic resonance as Route 66 or cultural vitality as Broadway, but until you’ve caught fish in Renner’s pond, busted through Troyer’s electric fences while running through the fields, pulled friends on saucer sleds tied to ATVs in the Ohio snow, and leapt over bonfires with boys who desperately wanted to be men, you’ll never know excitement like I have. North Elementary is now gone, but never will the bickering about it most assuredly not being North Street, though it seemed everyone who went to Maple or Oak wanted redub Mineral Springs Street (I mean, seriously, it was just the northernmost elementary school. What’s so difficult about that! But I digress…). That Junior High was where I realized I hated running, experienced my first kiss, realized I loved playing football and discovered that my knees didn’t care for the sport all that much. I don’t remember anything about my birth, but the same doctor that delivered me into this world at Dunlap also taught Sunday school classes at Augsburg that included “The Gospel According to the Simpsons” and even helped me to believe in the miraculous. In fact, at Augsburg, I learned to see God at work on Back Massillon, in school, at work, truly everywhere. Our origins aren’t boring. Perhaps we just fail to remember the excitement at the heart of our developing lives. Perhaps we forget God’s presence on every step of the journey.
Origins play a central role in the stories of our faith. What would Eve and Adam be without the initial story of their formation at God’s hands? Just creatures of dust with no breath of life. Where would Noah – and for that matter, the rest of creation – be without God’s initial intervention? At the bottom of the sea. Ruth would still be in Moab without Boaz and unsure of God’s protective, redemptive love. Who knows what Mary’s legacy might be without God’s origins? Likely that of most women in the 1st century. Sold to an older man for marriage and immediately forgotten by him and by history. And yet, because of our origins in God’s story, she’s now known as theotokos, God-bearer, the one who gave birth to divinity and salvation within humanity.
You, too, have an origin story. Wherever it began, and however it developed, God was there. At times, encouraging. At times, challenging. At times, weeping with you, lamenting the hurt others caused you and you caused others (and, likely, you caused yourself as well). Always celebrating your origin, for your origin is God’s image. Your breath is the very Spirit of God. If you can’t see it, or can’t imagine it, look again. In God’s presence, places like Orrville become the Edens of our origins.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.