Sen. Raphael Warnock does a lot of talking about mountains and valleys. He came from a valley, literally, in Savannah, Ga. where he grew up the second-youngest of 12 siblings. He’s climbed mountains, some real, some more metaphorical, like his rise to senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and being elected U.S. Senator representing Georgia.

And in any given sermon, he’s likely to reference the Book of Isaiah, which says all valleys shall be exalted, all mountains made low.

His life, in fact, has been defined by forging a path through the mountains and the valleys — a spiritual and political journey that has allowed him to, as he has titled his new memoir that hit shelves in June, make “a way out of no way.”

That way has brought him from Savannah to New York, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and to Martha’s Vineyard — where he has preached every summer except one for the last 15 years. He will return to the Island next week, taking part in the Martha’s Vineyard Author Series on July 7 at the Chilmark Community Center and preaching at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs on July 10.

But for all the talk the reverend senator does about mountains and valleys, and for all the trailblazing he has done to get through them, he had never quite experienced a moral geography as dramatic as the 24-hours between Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 and Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021. Over the course of those two days, he ascended to the proverbial mountaintop, winning his hard-fought race against Kelly Loeffler to become Georgia’s first Black senator.

The next day, that joy turned into horror, he said, as he witnessed rioters storm the Capitol in Washington.

“I think both speak the truth about our complicated American story,” Mr. Warnock said in a telephone interview with the Gazette. “The question is, which America are we going to be? Are we going to be the America of January 5th, or are we going to be the America of January 6th?”

Sen. Raphael Warnock walking with parishioners after his sermon at the Tabernacle last summer. He returns on July 10. — Jeanna Shepard

Eighteen months later, as another significant day for the country approaches — July 4 — Mr. Warnock continues to grapple with the America of 2022, a country that faces a decades-high rate of inflation, has seen its Supreme Court overturn a half-century-old precedent regarding the constitutional right to an abortion and witnessed unspeakable gun violence in its schools and on its streets. He is again in a pitched battle for his senate seat, this time facing the former Georgia football star Herschel Walker.

And he, like millions of other Americans, has watched with rapt attention as a House committee lays bare the events of a year-and-a-half prior.

He says he plans to let the Jan. 6 committee “do their work,” while he continues to do his, most recently filing a bill to suspend the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax.

“I think we’re at a crossroads as a country about which way we want to go. And I think my emergence in the Senate sits at that intersection,” Mr. Warnock said. “[Jan. 6] was a visceral and visible reminder of the work that’s in front of us. So while I celebrated on Jan. 5, I didn’t have time to bask in the victory. I had to put my boots on and get to work immediately.”

The Senator is no stranger to work boots, growing up in Savannah’s Herbert Kayton Homes housing project. While the circumstances weren’t easy — six siblings sharing one bathroom, for instance — he doesn’t dwell on the challenges. In fact, the first thing Mr. Warnock mentions about his home was the laughter.

“That’s how I remember my childhood,” he said. “My family was short on money, long on love, long on faith.”

That’s why he was so surprised, years later, when his older brother Keith — a clean-cut Army veteran and police officer — was arrested on charges of aiding and abetting drug distribution. His brother’s arrest became a formative political moment for him and the experience opens Mr. Warnock’s memoir.

Keith was guilty, but as Mr. Warnock learned more about the case, he realized his brother had been the target of an elaborate FBI sting that focused on Black officers in the department. None of the drugs, nor drug dealers, were genuine. His brother, nonetheless, was given a lifetime sentence.

“I know what it’s like to visit a loved one in prison,” Mr. Warnock said. “And it has given me a kind of empathy through which I do my work as a legislator, and my work as a pastor.”

In conversation, the reverend senator is more preacher than politician, chewing on questions before answering them. He tinkers with his words, much like he tinkered with radios as a child. He’s funny, still the prankster preacher who would bless his siblings with new faces. But he’s also deeply academic, almost as likely to cite literature as he is scripture.

Although Mr. Warnock was essentially born into the church — both his parents were Pentecostal pastors — his formal religious education occurred at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Mr. Warnock said his time in the city widened his world-view, transforming his stance on issues like gay marriage. It was also there that he met the Rev. Cathlin Baker, who serves as pastor at the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury. Their enduring friendship is the reason he has preached on Martha’s Vineyard for the past 15 years, and he cited her activism and commitment to the poor as inspirations for his own ministry.

“I always smile when I walk into that little church and see the list of pastors in the vestibule,” Mr. Warnock said of the West Tisbury church. On one side there is a long list of male names. “And then there’s Cathlin. I love it. Every time I see it, it makes me smile.”

After Union Seminary, Mr. Warnock became the youth minister at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York city and then senior minister at Douglas Community Memorial Church in Baltimore, Md. He served for four years before his 2005 appointment as senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the former church of Martin Luther King, known as “Daddy King,” and his son, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. Warnock, unlike his forebears, grew up in the shadow of the Civil Rights movement, writing in his book that he “never drank from a colored water fountain, used a colored restroom, or attended a school assigned by the color” of his skin.

But it is a long shadow.

“It’s important to realize that there were folks doing this work long before we showed up,” he said. “And I think that one’s life’s work ought to be larger than one’s lifetime. If you’re working on a project, if your life project is something that you can actually complete in your lifetime, I think it’s too small.”

Advocating for his brother Keith became Mr. Warnock’s lifetime project, bringing his pulpit to the prison as his work in criminal justice expanded to preaching clemency for other incarcerated people, like death row inmate Troy Davis. He decided to run for Senate on a platform inspired by his criminal justice work, as well as voting rights, Medicare expansion and other issues.

“I’d spent all this time registering people to vote, I needed to give people somebody something to vote for,” he said.

He continues to travel each week from Washington to preach at Ebenezer, serving as a practicing pastor, along with his legislative duties.

“I have to find somewhere to go to get away from that craziness,” he joked.

Despite Mr. Warnock’s relentless efforts, Keith wasn’t freed from prison until the Covid-19 pandemic spurred a mass release of incarcerated people across the country. And despite Mr. Warnock’s fight for clemency, Mr. Davis never was released. The state executed him in 2011.

Mr. Warnock’s memoir begins with a famous quotation from his mentor and friend, former Congressman John Lewis: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.”

It is a stance Mr. Warnock has taken to heart.

“What choice do we have?” Mr. Warnock said. In his view, John Lewis had no reason to believe he could win his fight on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But Mr. Lewis crossed it, and that crossing built a bridge to the future, according to Mr. Warnock.

Then, in classic fashion, he referenced an Olive Schreiner parable that describes locusts crossing a river, lining up one on top of the other. The locusts create a bridge, but many of those who lead are swept away. When they ask old man wisdom what to make of those who are swept away, wisdom says that they built a track to the water’s edge. Yes, they might be gone, but they built something bigger than themselves, wisdom says.

“So who am I to give up?” Mr. Warnock said. “As difficult as these days are, we still live in the United States of America, where we have the right to protest, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech. We still get to criticize and critique power, without too much fear. And that is such a narrow space in the long track of humanity toward the water’s edge, and freedom. We should be the last people to give up.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock will speak at the Martha’s Vineyard Author Series on July 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center. He leads services at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs on July 10, beginning at 10 a.m.