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A Little More on Story…

Christian worship is principally neither an affirmation of general truths nor an interior state of communion of the soul with God…but is rather a social meal- and word-centered communication informed by the key events of the Christian story.    – David F. Ford

One way to understand ourselves as part of the story is to worship in that manner.  Yet, corporate worship happens for most of us just on Sunday mornings, and the rest of the week we often fail to capture the idea of story in our lives.  A few thoughts:

We often refuse to see ourselves in the story, strangely, by trying to take the story apart.  I’ve been reading a book called Amazing Tales for Making Men out of Boys (I’m actually reviewing it…it’s not that I’m finally trying to become a man).  The author simply tells stories of courage and daring.  No explanation or how-to-apply-these-truths, no five main points from each story.  Just a story about what it means to be a courageous man.  I find them incredibly refreshing, and clarifying.  They inspire me in ways that the author never could if he boiled three main points out of them after reading the story.  I just want the story, and to see the possibility of myself in it.

By picking the story apart and saying its essence is in five truths, we’ve lost the power of the story.  If the most important thing was the five truths, that’s what the author would have written.  

The task of soteriology is, then, to show how the reader is included in the story and how the story is or can be the story of that reader’s redemption.   – Michael Root

My brother wrote today on views of the cross, and although the work on the cross and a person’s response are different, perhaps they stand on either side of redemption.  But we strive so hard to communicate how the cross works because it comes from a story, and that story doesn’t fit neatly into one idea.  It encompasses many.  Thus, we see why various writers of the New Testament (and after) have gotten at the cross in myriad ways, explaining the story in a way that makes sense, or stirs, them.  

And I’m somewhat of an existentialist when it comes to this story.  As Michael Root wrote, we must present the same story in different ways for different people.  Redemption comes when we understand ourselves as part of the gospel story.  The church has presented the story in many different ways.  We read the same gospels and pick out various aspects with which we identify.  And Jesus offers identification to all of us.  For on the cross, he identifies with anyone lonely, or abandoned, or suffering, or abused, or shamed, or betrayed, or oppressed, or falsely accused, or mocked, or…anyone.  A political prisoner would resonate with one aspect of the story, a wife who had been cheated on another, a lonely high schooler another.  This is the power of story.  It points at one central truth, but can offer inclusion to so many people.

So, we don’t pick the story apart.  So, we find the aspects that inspire us, and let others be inspired by other aspects.  Not that we can never pick the story apart (study is a good thing) or never check to make sure we’re still all talking about the same story, and haven’t strayed to a gospel that only aims to liberate political prisoners.  

But getting back to my daily point: in my experience, there’s no easy answer to understanding our role in the story of redemption.  Just as there’s no easy answer to living out this role.  Yet, we must read the stories, the large chunks of the Bible that we often skip over, focusing only on the palatable truths of the New Testament (and those we often water down).  We must sit with them, and see ourselves in them, or at least see that we are part of the same redemption story.  We must let them stir us.  God has acted in unbelievable ways, and if we really began to believe that he’s done some of what the Bible claims, then I think we have some praying and acting and loving to do.  

When we begin to do this, to see God’s grand story, then we begin to see it everywhere.  In stories we read, even horrific ones, we see glimpses of redemption.  In the short stories that we tell when we catch up with friends.  In movies we watch, we may see a parallel to God’s story.  In our own lives, through thinking and journaling and talking, we see how God has been moving and perhaps what role he has for us to play.


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Maria left me on a Sunday.  We had made love in the morning, while listening to Van Morrison.  Maria loved Van Morrison.  After, we ate pancakes and our dog slept under the kitchen table.  He was a mutt, with gray around his mouth like a christening of age, and his legs sometimes shook while he slept.  Maria liked to say he dreamed of chasing rabbits.  I don’t know if he had ever even seen a rabbit.

I went to work that afternoon as I did every Sunday, and the sky was the same worn, dated gray of the crumbling asphalt that led me to the high school.  A wind charged out of the west and I could taste the rain in the air.

The gymnasium needed to be swept before school on Monday.  The floor really needed to be waxed and polished but it could go another week.  I gathered the empty styrofoam cups and candy wrappers from the bleachers.  I swept and mopped.  The rest of the school was still clean, but I took a walk around it to be sure.  I had walked these halls for the last sixteen years; twelve of them as a janitor.  My shoes padded softly on the tiled floors.  A bathroom next to the gym needed a fresh wastebasket liner, but there was nothing besides.  No teachers, no students, no one except me and my thoughts which echoed off the walls and down the halls and bounced back at me off the new glass doors.

I drove home through town; rain started falling in soft flecks on my windshield.  I waited at the one stoplight in town with no one else.  Maria’s car was gone when I turned onto our dirt drive, and Gus ran out to greet me.  I rubbed his ears and we went inside.  A note was on the table.  It said Maria was going back to live with her mom in Omaha, that she couldn’t take any more of this small town life or jobs that defined tedium.  Her clothes were gone, but nothing else.  Look me up, she said, if I ever change my mind and decide to leave.

I took a beer out of the fridge and walked out to the back porch.  Gus rolled around on the plastic, green carpet.  Rain tapped on the awning above us, and fed the corn in the field next door.  It would be a good crop this year.  Gus laid his head down on my feet.  Soon, his legs were shaking, and I watched the earth soak up the rain as the sky grew dark with the night.

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