I mentioned in my sermon for this weekend:
“being a pastor, I’ve heard all the reasons not to believe before and, as a Christian, I struggle with all of them myself.”
I thought it an innocuous line, but it yielded me 3 queries in the line of worshippers leaving church and 4 other rapid response emails.
They all wanted to know what it is I struggle to believe.
What questions to which I’m still seeking answers.
And what doubts make my faith remain like a too-small blanket.
Fair enough. I brought it up, and since I’m enough of a Calvinist to think the pulpit isn’t the most appropriate place to explore doubts (it’s a place to proclaim the Gospel) I can at least give space to such questions here.
Struggle/Doubt/Question #9: The Power of Story
But in a different way.
‘Story’ is a trendy word in the publishing world and the blogosphere of late, which is a sure sign some other perspective is just on the horizon.
Anyone who’s listened to or read a few of my sermons knows that I’m inclined to communicate via story. We’re story-formed creatures I believe, and, I believe, story possesses the capacity to convey truth and meaning in a way that deductive or propositional teaching does not. Story allows room for moral complexity and emotional resonance, accessing not just the head but the heart.
Most of scripture is story, after all, and even those parts that are not, like the epistles, presume a particular story in the background.
I think narratively and I communicate best that way too.
Yet here’s my nagging, creeping pastor’s doubt, the annoying question that comes over me like a cold sweat after each and every sermon:
What if ‘story’ doesn’t have the power we confer upon it?
What if, in other words, the biblical stories do not form, conform or transform people over time?
On this very topic, I’d encourage you to click over and read a piece from the NY Times: Does Great Literature Make Us Better?
Preachers like me love to point out how Jesus’ parables still have the power to shock, offend and turn the tables of convention, but what if we’re wrong? Or kidding ourselves?
After all, when Jesus told the stories himself they seem to have fell on deaf, uncomprehending ears and left those listeners’ characters largely intact.
I struggle with wondering if it’s the same for us. Is our character largely formed by actions and habits regardless of the stories we tell, hear and proclaim?
Might this be the underlying reason that 2,000 years and counting so many of the Risen Jesus’ followers do not appear to be leading (or attempting) risen lives?