How could you use Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, for purposes other than shopping?
StoryCorps, an organization that seeks to foster compassion and justice through storytelling, has designated that day as a National Day of Listening – a time when families come together to tell and hopefully record family stories.
Of course, families can be church groups, friends, social groups, couples or even individuals.
Here is part of my story:
A major part of my story is bound to my religious experiences. I grew up in a small town. We lived diagonally across from the Baptist church, with the Methodist church at the other end of the block.
I have been attending church all of my life. It is not a stretch to say that I love church.
I remember most of my early Sunday School teachers and the leaders of the Royal Ambassadors, a Baptist mission study group for boys.
The McGills were our next-door neighbors, and they included me in the RA meetings long before I was the right age.
When I was 11 years old, “Preacher Gowan” (Roy R. Gowan) gathered a group of us preteens on a series of Saturday mornings and talked to us about accepting Jesus as our personal savior.
There was absolutely no pressure. He encouraged us to talk to our parents about our decisions.
After questioning my sister and me, my parents must have been satisfied with our answers because on a Sunday morning as the congregation sang “Just As I Am,” I made my public profession of faith.
Preacher Gowan is also the one who assured me, “Mitchell, God made all of you. That includes your brain. He did not expect you to park it at the door when you come to church.”
Since that day, I have traveled far and wide. I have visited churches of different faiths and explored many theological questions. I know that I can do this because of the solid grounding I received from that wonderful fellowship.
I have come to understand that many of their religious ideas would not stand up to rigorous theological questioning.
However, what they lacked in theological knowledge fades in comparison to their gifts of love and encouragement. They demonstrated my bedrock belief: God is love.
As life has crowded in over these decades since my childhood, I have returned again and again to that simple but profound bedrock foundation.
I have come to believe that any theology that doesn’t fit with that simple belief doesn’t belong.
What we believe is made up of every experience of our lives, including the impact of every person we have met.
I have been blessed by a stream of mentors from my youth to old age that God has brought into my life.
Some of those will probably never know how important her or his influence has been.
I have always been a questioner, even a skeptic. When I am criticized for that, I return to the words of Preacher Gowan reinforced years later by Cynthia Campbell, retired president of McCormick Theological Seminary in Cleveland: “There is no question that you can ask that God has not already answered. There is no place you can go that God is not already there.”
Is it any wonder that one of my favorite Scripture verses is “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Who am I? I am a husband, son, father, brother, Christian, believer, questioner, skeptic, seeker and friend.
I carry the scars and badges of one who has stayed in the game of life with a mixture of triumphs and failures.
Through it all, one thing has undergirded me since that decision when I was 11 years old: “I know in whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
I am still seeking, learning and growing. I am still excited about what might unfold.
When I record my story, I will put a date on it because next year my story will be different.
Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.