By Tom Ehrich

I was reading entries in a church magazine contest, doing my best to assess graphics, writing, layout, organization, thoroughness.

Some entries were excellent and conveyed a faith enterprise worth examining. Some relied too much on earnest gush, fervent fluff and extensive citations of Scripture.

Then I opened a 10-year retrospective on 9/11, published by the Salvation Army. It was told entirely in first-person stories.

No statistics, no preachiness, no learned insertion of Bible quotes. In articles of admirable brevity, several dozen people told where they were when the planes hit, what they did in response, and what happened next.

They told of telephone calls ordering them to report for duty at the three attack sites. They told of taking on tasks like feeding 40,000 people, checking in emergency crews, and praying with traumatized firefighters, police officers and emergency rescue workers.

In the simplicity and authority of first-hand details, they captured the horror, clouds of ash, deeply wounded survivors. They recounted the bravery of first-responders and that amazing moment, before the politicians arrived, when Americans of all types simply worked side by side to rescue, comfort and treat.

Most of us have a 9/11 story, and this issue reminded me of mine. But more than anything, I felt drawn into the holy drama of ordinary people behaving as heroes, grace under pressure, and people turning to their faith, not to win an argument but to give and receive God’s care.

Faith is about stories. Not definitions, not doctrines, not stacks of Bible quotes, not grand worship. Faith is about stories. Stories of where we were when we caught a glimpse of God, and of what we did next.