My Mom, Naomi, was born to Susannah Martin and Oliver Shantz. My Dad, Wayne, was born to Louisa Bauman and Ezra Martin. I think of myself as half Shantz and half Martin though the genetic influence branches out beyond these two family names. Because I married a Martin ( a different line of Martins than the one I hail from), my kids are Martin and Martin. But again, their genetic influence has all of my ancestry as well as all my husband’s ancestry, not just us and our parents.
Does it even matter?
My Mom was dark-haired with an olive skin tone. As a teenager, she used to dust flour onto her arms to make them appear more pale. She was naturally strong and athletic, and I remember her ability to take on tasks that were traditionally considered men’s work. She will often talk of the Shantz build and their lack of a derriere. She always preferred hands-on work to “book learning”, and remembers looking forward to Sunday’s day of rest being over so that she could work again. She loved to be at home and was content in her world.
My Dad had curly, sandy-coloured hair and was ruddy-skinned and freckled. As a young boy, he tried to rid himself (unsuccessfully) of his freckles by following an old wives’ tale of rubbing his arms with the early morning dew. He too was naturally strong, and I remember my sense of childhood pride that he could tie a string around his bicep and pop the string when he flexed. Dad liked “book learning” and rued the day when his formal education was cut short. He had an ever present sense of wanderlust that resulted in trips and projects which both quelled and fuelled his restlessness.
These two begat me and my siblings.
The Bible has many genealogical lists. So-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so and on and on it goes. I remember coming across these lists in my reading as a child and gritting my teeth as it were, to get through them. Other than maybe finding an unusual name that I liked, they had little meaning for me. The lists of names are predominantly male; the few females that are named have stories of being taken advantage of or have lived stories outside of predicted norm.
As I embarked on my journey of reading the text this past year, I came across these lists again and, while they still felt tedious, they also provoked the question for me of why they were there. I thought then of my Dad who places people in their genealogical contexts when he’s trying to explain who someone is to me. Tracing a person’s heritage is like running your finger along a thread that stitches its way back through time and attaches that person to something greater and more encompassing than who they are on their own. The people and stories within our family trees imprint on us and shape us whether we are conscious of it or not. If raised in an adoptive family, people will often want to search out their biological roots. While we are more than the sum total of our genetic and environmental backgrounds, those threads name and identify pieces of who we are and place us within a larger context.
“To the original audience of these stories and the genealogies in them, those lists weren’t boring; they were inspiring. God uses nobodies. And how do you acknowledge the role a nobody played in the redemption of all things? You write down their name. And you remember them… those long lists – and the longer the better – were signs of hope. Hope that nobody is forgotten, hope that average people living normal lives, not known for being heroes or coming from wealthy families or having royal blood, were all a part of something bigger than themselves.” (“What is the Bible?” Rob Bell)
I saw a commercial recently where two guys are on their front porches with their mugs of coffee looking out at the weather. The one guy, new to the country, tries to reach out to the other guy. The guy who is from the country is awkward and has nothing to offer back. He then goes and does an ancestry analysis (the commercial’s target). Later you see the two guys chatting over their back fence after the awkward dude finds out his origin and realizes he has something in common with the newcomer. It’s corny, and I’m cynical of commercials, but there is a seed here of that sense of belonging to something larger than yourself, of tracing that thread back to your beginnings. That thread can link you to someone else in surprising ways too.
My lineage has been passed on to me – I have (or had) dark hair, a dark complexion with a smattering of freckles across my nose, my nose that doesn’t resemble either of my parents nor any of my siblings. I too am fairly strong. I love to see new places, but often get homesick when I travel. I like to have my hands busy when I’m in conversation or listening to a talk. Books are friends. While a roving restlessness niggles at me, I am also content tending my kitchen fire.
Most of us are nobodies in a long list of nobodies, but in that, we are also somebodies with stories to pass on. Let’s live our stories with presence.