Tag Archives: stories

Reimagining the Bible, Again

27 May
Photo via Flickr user honorbound

Photo via Flickr user honorbound

I love a good storyteller. She has to ability to break the present, ordinary moment open to a sense of pure transcendence. A good story invites us into a thin space where we can float in truth and beauty. Go to a story telling event or an amateur comedy night and be reminded how hard good storytelling really is.

We need good storytellers to help us read the Bible and make it come alive, again, for us in this time and place.

During the Modern Age, Darrell Jodock explains in his book The Church’s Bible, the Bible lost a good deal of collective authority. This had to do with several cultural shifts including increased value placed on objectivity and the scientific approach and people connecting loyalty to tradition with stagnation.

The Bible, however, continues to withstand the test of time. Christians continue to find it useful to turn to the book. It is time-tested, but each generation has to reclaim it and rediscover its usefulness for their context. The Bible indeed has no authority outside outside the context of community and relationship. It is a book collecting dust until we open it, interact with it, and apply it to our communities. At its best, the Bible can connect us to other communities over time an space, providing a hold continuity. It can mediate the presence of God by providing a language of faith. As time goes on, we have to work harder and harder to translate that language in a way that is relevant to a world far from the original audience.

Reading the Bible with young people is a welcome challenge for me. We talk a lot about stories– those in the text and our own. We work to understand the original context so that we may apply it to our immediate context with care. Re-contextualizing the Bible requires imagination, creativity, patience and empathy. When we do it well, it is worth the work. The richness of the stories, if reimagined well, point beyond itself to God. They break open to transcendence. Beauty and truth rush in.

At the end of his book, Jodock invites us to simply take the Bible and read it. It will only speak when used in community and embodied in the daily lives of its members. In that way, we give the Bible it’s authority. It’s complex, worthy work.

When God Says No

1 Oct
Photo via Flickr user admitchell08

Photo via Flickr user admitchell08

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

–Deuteronomy 34:1-8

It is moments like these, when we realize we have been clinging to our own expectations, that God surprises us. We must dig deep, let go of our own dreams, and feel grateful for the story that is ours.

Stand with Moses for a moment, looking at the promised land. He has overcome his own insecurities to lead his people. He has escaped slavery. He has suffered in the wilderness for years. If anyone has earned the right to step foot in the promised land, it is him. He thought his role was to lead his people there, and that part of that role was arriving with them and celebrating. What a storybook ending it could have been for Moses, after all he has been through, to step onto the land that will be home to his descendants and to be buried there, brimming with fulfillment and closure and peace. It just seems right that he should have be able to die there. When his people were complaining again, when he was tired and hungry and scared, how many times must Moses have pictured that moment of reaching the destination when it would all be worth it? How sweet, to finally arrive home.

But it was not to be.

We have all had moments like Moses’. We look out and see the future we thought was ours. It’s so close we can taste it. We see the promised land we thought was our ultimate destination. A job we are excited about. A baby we thought was on the way. A friend we thought would walk with us into old age. And the Lord says, “No.”

It is moments like these that I think of Moses, looking out to vast land, realizing he would never know what it felt like to stand on that ground. It is these moments when God says No that we see what we are really made of. The shift, the letting go comes with great grieving. We mourn the story we thought would be ours. We must decide if we will walk into our actual story bitter or grateful. Are we willing to change roles? Adjust our narrative? That we can control. “I let you see it with your eyes,” the Lord said to Moses. Will we allow that to be enough?

Storied People

25 Sep

We are a storied people. Joan Didion reminds us in The White Album that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. We are constantly converting our lives into a story about our lives and bouncing that story off larger cultural tales. It is one reason I teach theology. I love teaching young people the stories in the Bible and looking for ourselves in them. We need to know our story to know where we came from, where we are and where we are going. It gives us a foundation to stand on. It connects us to our ancestors. It reminds us that we are part of a larger narrative.

My son loves books, and it is a gift to surround him with stories. When we play make believe, we are living in the stories we are creating. I get excited thinking about the stories I will share with him as he gets older, stories I loved as a child, stories that changed my mind, changed my life. He will be welcomed to share in my canon, and will undoubtedly add to mine as he creates his own.

When I am taking pictures of him or journaling about him, I am aware that I am crafting his story. As a writer, I take this job very seriously. It feels like a big responsibility. The folklore that comes out of our youth has a role in our identity formation. The stories that our ancestors tell us about ourselves take root. What moments do I capture that get at the heart of who he is? What narrative threads are presenting themselves in his story? He will get a sense of who he was and who he is and who he is becoming by ingesting my interpretation of his life. For now, before he has memory, I am helping craft his story for him.

Ken Burns has a great video on Vimeo called On Story. He talks about re-telling stories of history, how he likes complicated stories where 1 + 1 = 3. Where villains are lovable and heroes are faulty. Where the strength of someones story may challenge us to change our minds. Every story is manipulation, and he reaches for an emotional truth through that unavoidable manipulation. He says, “We tell stories to continue ourselves.” Stories remind us that it is going to be okay.

What stories are you telling?

What stories are you swimming in?

What stories do you hold as true?

What story are you living?

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