Archives For Narrative Theology

1231472_10201379536123104_1520633178_nOurs is a God who speaks creation into being, reveals more often through vowels and consonants than pillars of cloud and burning bushes.

Our scripture is mostly story form.

Our faith is narrative so it makes sense that our faith would be passed down narratively.

Here’s this reflection from Elaine Woods, our Children’s Minister:

I love a good story.  I’m entranced when someone tells an interesting story about what happened to them.  From the set up to the climatic conclusion, a good storyteller captures your full attention.

My grandmother loved to tell stories.  Whenever I would stop by and visit her, she seemed to always have something to say.  Whether it was about her garden or canning fruit, she made it sound interesting.  She spoke in a causal, relaxed tone; never seemed to be in a hurry.  I rarely felt that she was preaching to me or telling me what to do.  And yet, I learned from her.  To this day when I sew, I can hear my grandmother’s voice saying, “I like to make sure the inside seams are as pretty as the outside ones.”

With all the technology we use today, the art of storytelling is fading away.

No television, computer, ipad, or internet can replace the face to face, interaction of someone telling a story with gestures, facial expressions, and tone inflections.  It’s an active communication between two people.

As a parent, I try to monitor how much time my children spend using media.

I must admit though, it’s usually the first thing they want to do after school, homework, or activities.

It’s such a temptation.  And with our busy lifestyles, even parents succumb to going online far too often.

My daughters were recently getting ready for their Homecoming dance.  As we were talking together, they asked me about my high school years. They wanted to know if I had homecoming dances at my school, and if I attended any of them.  The conversation took a turn down memory lane for me as I shared about my high school dances and dates.  I even pulled out my old photo album; the kind where the photos stick to the white pages with the “magnetic” plastic covering.  I showed them the yellow stained pictures of me in my Gunne Sax dresses.  We laughed hysterically.  Afterwards they said, “Mom, I didn’t know any of this about you!”

What a wonderful opportunity we have as parents to share stories with our children.

No matter how many times they roll their eyes or poke fun, children are interested in their parents and want to get to know them.

Personalized stories can become a starting point for parents to share their faith.  Something as simple as sharing whether or not you attended worship as a child and what that looked like.

Family gatherings at holidays, weddings, or funerals are also an opportunity to discuss faith with your children.

Keep in mind the more detail you go into, the better chance that your child will relate to parts of your story. These stories do not have to be elegant or something that happened long ago.   If your faith is new to you, let your children know that. Their faith is still new to them, so they will enjoy knowing that they are not alone. As long as you are sharing about yourself, it will mean the world to them.

Stories brought to life are exciting.  Just look at the bible.  Stories of prophesy, murder, redemption, love, and forgiveness occur in the first book alone!

Sharing stories with our children allows them to see us as more than just “parents.”

They see us as people with our own experiences and feelings.

Inviting grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members to connect with our children through stories is invaluable.  Children will learn they are part of a larger, grander story than just their own.  Faith will become real to them as they see it through the eyes of family members.

Life is a gift from God.  We have the opportunity to share this gift with our children through stories.

 

 

 

 

 

campbellobit1-articleInlineIf you didn’t know, Will Campbell died a bit ago. Author of Brother to a Dragonfly (best book by a clergyman ever), Campbell was a Civil Rights activist who infuriated Civil Rights liberals for his Christian love of the enemy.

Namely, Klansmen.

Campbell was a nagging reminder that Christians, whose primary story is the Gospel rather than America, defy easy categorization.

Campbell’s death brought to mind an experience I had recently.

Just a few weeks ago, I participated in a bible study on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Our bible study of less than a dozen people included Christians (and even one ‘none’) from all over the world.

As I noted in a recent sermon, the group was comprised of a gay Episcopal priest from San Francisco, a Unitarian lay person from Boulder, Colorado, a Catholic civil servant from Paris, France, a women’s studies PhD candidate from Barcelona, Spain, and a geologist from Italy who looked like a shorter, plumper, balder, older version of me. He even sported my sloppy dress and unkempt beard.

Then there was me.

And across from me was an Episcopal Bishop from California.

In the above mentioned sermon, I recounted how, in exasperation and upon remembering that the bishop before me wasn’t my bishop and, as such, had no authority over me, I burst forth:

‘Of course, you think that. You’re a tree-hugging, liberal, Baby Boomer Episcopalian from California.’

In the context of the sermon, it was just a throwaway line, a sneaky gauge of my listeners’ wakefulness disguised as a snarky joke.

In the context of the bible study in which it was originally uttered; however, what later became a throwaway line was initially a genuine outburst of exasperation.

I reduced the bishop to a political label.

I put her in a box.

And then I colored it a dark blue using the red-blue crayons the culture wars have given us.

I did so (if I were of a more ‘liberal’ bent I’d use the word ‘prophetic’ here) because that’s exactly what I’d listened to her do for upwards of 15 minutes.

Our scripture lesson that morning had been from 2 Isaiah: ‘Do not remember the former things…’ That scripture along with the long-suffering landscape of Pine Ridge became the only ingredients necessary for the bishop to launch into a diatribe against ‘right-wing, conservative Christians who [fill in predictable adjectives and knee-jerk assumptions about what ‘those people’ do or support].

As her diarrhea of the mouth built to a crescendo, complaining about all those Christians who listen to X radio preacher and Y cable news channel and hate Z demographic, I’d decided I’d had enough and threw up the words: ‘Of course, you think that. You’re a tree-hugging, liberal, Baby Boomer Episcopalian from California.’

My gross generalizing judgment had the silencing, subject-changing results I’d hoped and, like Lord Voldemort, we spoke of it no more.

I’m sure if the bishop had had the chance to rebut me, she would’ve protested that she  was a much more complicated person, her own views more nuanced and tempered by the ambiguities of life experience and vagaries that come with the relationships in her life.

And that was my point.

The same is true of so-called ‘right-wing, conservative Christians.’

The same is true of everyone.

All of us.

None of us so easily fits the boxes and categories we submissively allow the culture and its media to give us.

In my line of work, I know lots of Christians. Many- if not most- are conservative and almost none of them fit the template for ‘Conservative Christian.’

They all have incredibly diverse approaches, opinions and stories. And I think the word ‘story’ best captures my point. We all have one that’s unique to us and we all bring it, uniquely, to the Christian story.

As James KA Smith puts it:

‘We are Christians not because of what we believe, but because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus. Becoming a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding but of becoming part of a different community with a different set of practices.’ 

Put a bit differently, Christianity is where our personal stories intersect the story of Jesus and that’s always going to result in a messy collision that’s unique for each and every person unlucky enough to have their life sabotaged by Jesus.

If Christianity isn’t primarily about opinions and beliefs, if it’s about our story and Christ’s story becoming one, if this is always an alchemy that yields a one-of-a-kind batch each and every time, then we should refuse to put Christians into boxes.

Because to do so would require a new box for each and every person.

‘Story’ and the uniqueness of each person’s story as it integrates the Christ story has been vogue for some time now in liberal progressive circles, where its emphasis implicitly- if not explicitly- encourages a certain charity towards every individual’s point of view.

An emphasis on ‘story,’ in other words, is inherently inclusive, engendering tolerance, patience and kindness.

To an extent.

Too often, I think, those who laud ‘story’ do so provided only that the person’s ‘story’ is staked out somewhere within the pre-approved vicinity of the liberal progressive camp.

Put a bit differently, Will Campbell’s death and my conversation (ie, heated exchange) with the bishop has caused me to wonder if those who espouse tolerance are tolerant only of those they deem safely outside the intolerant fold. Sure, it’s easy to point out examples of conservative Christians being intolerant of those with whom they disagree. That’s no surprise. They’re all over the media.

But, troublingly, it’s damn hard to find contemporary liberal progressive versions of Will Campbell.

I wonder how many of those who esteem ‘story’ today have listened charitably to the ‘story’ of individual conservatives? Or evangelicals?

Because, like I said, I think they’d find that it’s a waste of time to put folks in boxes. The nearest Container Store to me is in Georgetown and, even then, I doubt there’s enough boxes to go around.

 

help_my_unbelief-1I 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.

I signed on to narrative theology, with George Lindbeck and Stanely Hauerwas, quite a while ago and that remains that position from which I’ll debate any other perspective.

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?

01stone-img-blog427On 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.

And unchanged.

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?