A few weeks ago, I got excited when my cousin Brenda shared that she had a breakthrough in discovering more of our shared ancestry. Through her research she found that my paternal grandmother’s family had been traced back to 1510 “with many generations being highly regarded Reverends.” My interest was especially piqued when she disclosed that the family name with which my blood was intermixed was “Knox.” Given that the heritage of my grandmother’s family was Scottish, immediately my mind jumped to the famous Scottish reformer John Knox.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with John Knox, here is a little historical context; John Knox was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and a leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. Born in 1513, he was educated in the classics and in theology, and he was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church. However, he was dissatisfied with the practices of the church, and he became an advocate for the ideas of the Reformation, which advocated for a return to the biblical teachings and practices of the early Christian Church.
Knox’s most significant contribution to the Reformation was his role in establishing Presbyterianism in Scotland. He was one of the leaders of the Scottish Reformation and helped to draft the Scottish Confession of Faith, which became the basis for the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. He also wrote several books and pamphlets that were widely read and influential in promoting the Reformation.
In addition to his work in Scotland, Knox also played a role in the wider Reformation movement. He corresponded with other Reformation leaders, such as John Calvin, and he traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to study under Calvin. He also spent time in England, where he was involved in the Puritan movement and the struggles against the Anglican Church.
Despite the controversies that surrounded him, Knox was widely respected as a man of great learning, integrity, and courage. He was known for his powerful preaching, which was characterized by his bold, unyielding defense of the truth. He was also known for his unwavering commitment to the cause of the Reformation, and he suffered greatly for his beliefs, including a period of imprisonment.
John Knox was a major figure in the Protestant Reformation and a key figure in the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland. His contributions to the Reformation were marked by his commitment to biblical truth, his powerful preaching, and his unwavering courage in the face of opposition. Today, he is remembered as one of the greatest leaders of the Reformation and as a major influence on the development of Protestantism.
There was something within me that really wanted this to be true, and perhaps some of the Knox family that shows up in my family tree is related to The John Knox, but as of yet there is no evidence that this true. As I continued to reflect on these possibilities, it occurred to me that the reason I wanted this to be true is because I want a deep connection to the why I am the way that I am. Why have I always been interested in philosophy, theology, preaching, the Bible, oratory and cultural reforms? Why is this something that is true about me, when it seems many others in my family don’t give much thought to such issues.
I wanted my identity to be connected to something larger than my geographical and cultural coincidences, as if somehow being related to John Knox would suddenly validate my life. Of course, I think we all do this when we attempt to get to know something about our ancestors. We want to embrace or distance ourselves from those dangling on our family tree, and what we are really looking for is meaning. These attempts are like the treading of water for a drowning man, grasping onto anything that has buoyancy. But these are imagined narratives that my brain imposes on disconnected and disjoined histories. I see a pattern, I imagine a tapestry, I organize people, events, and lives because that is what my brain does, not necessarily because it is true. This is why people can grow up in the same family and see things or remember events very differently. Married couples can cohabitate for decades and remain virtually strangers to one another, because old templates are imposed on evolving souls. The square peg is no longer comfortable in the round hole if it ever was to begin with.
People don’t make sense. Events happen and life continues. We can observe it but we can do very little to alter its trajectory. No doubt we make choices, but even those choices are informed by the number of opportunities we had and circumstances that influenced them. As some have speculated, “there is no plan” just a plan that we impose on events after the fact to manage our emotions and expectations.
I want my life to matter. In the end I think it will, and I believe it does, but it probably won’t have any thing to do with the possibility of me being remotely related to John Knox. Neither is my life invalidated by the fact that my great uncle was an alcoholic and murderer. What makes my life count is that I assign meaning to it. I find meaning within the relationships that I enjoy, and the experiences I receive. Meaning isn’t found in accomplishment or the accumulation of money or objects. None of that is of any lasting value.
Meaning is found in living. Period. This is a wisdom I wish I would have embraced earlier in life, but I am thankful that I am embracing it today.