Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Robust Storytelling

What kind of stories can you tell?

I have a theory that the strength of one’s theology and the depth of one’s spiritual journey are best measured by the kind and quantity of one’s stories.

We often measure discipleship success as: biblical knowledge, regular attendance, abstinence from (fill in the blank), tithing generosity, and general purity. And so we get together to “talk texts” or swap camp meeting tales or analyze what we should do and not do, especially on the final day of the week.

Seriously, get a bunch of religious folk (including Adventists) together and listen to their stories. There will, of course, be analysis of iphones, Tiger’s swing, and Starbuck’s newest brew. But when the conversation turns to so-called “religious” matters, what is spoken and heard? What are the conversations of Sabbath School, Small Group or Christian Blog?

Check this out:

Jesus sent out 72 disciples. And when they returned (Luke 10:17-19):

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name."

“Listen to our stories Jesus! Sick people got healed, depressed people found grace, victimized people found peace, hopeless people found hope … and we stuck it to some religious folks who had no good stories of their own to tell and didn’t want anybody else telling stories either.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

“Let me tell you some stories, too!” (Isn’t it great that Jesus jumps in the storytelling festival?) “Satan fell in Egypt and my people went free. Satan fell on Mount Carmel and the rain came down. Satan fell in the desert and I started this revolution. It was the bottom of the ninth, two outs, based loaded, and I went deep on the devil.”

19 “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”

“You will have more stories to tell.”

“You will do battle with Satan, demons, snakes and scorpions.” (Does this smell of Frodo, Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne, and Peter Parker turned Spiderman?) “You will embrace Jews and Greeks, Slaves and Freeman, Men and Women. You will travel the world feeding the hungry, defending the illegal alien, standing up against the destruction of my creation. You won’t take any guff from the legalists, the moralists, and the exclusionists. You will re-build communities, teach kids to read, and stand in the gap for single moms.”

You will have stories to tell. Astonishing stories.

So, the health of my church will not be measured by the number of dollars or biblical scholars. We will not count heads, but hearts. And, for God’s sake, we will not be boring. A dull Christian is one who has no stories to tell—of risk and love, of sacrifice and blessedness.

Followers of Jesus are able to tell and re-tell the mighty acts of God through ordinary human beings … as exciting as (sarcasm alert) the latest research on vegetarianism, as exciting as the latest statement of the Pope, as exciting as new perspectives on fundamental beliefs might be! Churches should be filled with tension, instability, and drama: the kind created by a Holy Spirit blowing like the wind, high pressure, low pressure, from the east, from the west, cold, hot, gusting, swirling … breathing people into the twists and turns of life-changing ministry.

Religious conversation should become relational conversation.

And this happens when we are immersed in the communities near us; when we are connected to people, and especially people who are not very much like (Christian) us. Friendships with men and women of many denominations, religions, pigments, paychecks, and priorities.

We choose to live a salternative lifestyle (see Matthew 5:13), choosing to experience and, better yet, excite life beyond the glass walls of our religious shaker.

And so our skeletal theories and propositions, vision and dreams, questions and suggestions are given fleshly stories of adventure/love tried, failed, found, lost, built, broken. The tales of supporting human actors (including ourselves) made wonderful by The Lead, Jesus Christ Himself.

“I’ve got to tell you. So there I was when out of nowhere …”

1 comment:

  1. Yeah! Bring on more by Alex Bryan. The vein of thought, that every human has a story to tell because each is part of THE “big” story, is mined exquisitely by author John Eldredge in "Wild at Heart". The 2003 fantasy-drama film “Big Fish” artfully extends the idea that, in the end, every man IS the story he has told; after our journey on earth is ended, that story IS the man…. and may powerfully extend our spiritual influence for generations.