What's the Big Story?

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ost biographies start with a person’s past. Presidential biographies not only go back to the president’s first job, or where he went to school, or even where he was born. No, the author usually starts with the president’s parents, or grandparents. In fact, usually he goes as far back as records allow. Why? Why so much interest in people and places that existed and lived hundreds of years before the president? Partly it’s because we want to trace the important influences on the president’s ancestors. We recognize that a president’s genes, characteristics, interests, personality, etc., were all shaped by his family history and even geography.

But it’s also because we want to see a plan. We want to be able to look back many years and sense the guiding hand of Providence in a person’s story, even before they were part of the story. Biographers look for decisions, events, and characters, both big and small, that demonstrate the Divine Hand preparing the way for this remarkable person’s arrival on earth. He’s looking for evidence of a plan, a pattern, or a sense of destiny that can be traced way back, through centuries, perhaps. Presidential candidates often attempt this in their own autobiographies. They want us to connect them with the past, because they all want us to see that they were “predestined” to this, that this was part of a higher plan they had little or no say in. They’re saying, “I’m not just an accident or a coincidence! I have a story, a long and important story, that Someone else is writing for me.”

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