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Telling, Acting, Eating, Living the Story

October 6, 2010 6 comments

Last week I enjoyed the opportunity to speak to a group in the healthcare field about navigating through crisis and change. It’s a bit ironic. I was speaking because the original speaker had a crisis and was unable to attend. In the midst of change, I spoke about change.

Some changes in life are so dramatic, so catastrophic that we never go back. Or as Bob Dylan says, “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.” We cannot return to the way things were. Life changes unalterably. A person goes blind. Another person receives the gift of sight. Both lives change in unexpected ways.

Dramatic changes can mark the beginning of grief and bitterness and despair, but they also mark the beginning of a new way of life filled with surprise and wonder. Our health may change, our job may change, our relationships may change, our world may change.

As we process change, we tell a story about that change. It might be good or bad or funny or tearful, but we begin to tell a story. As I spoke to the audience last week, I invited them to tell their story. In fact, I suggested they tell their life story in 30 seconds. The 30 second boundary forces some details to the top and others vanish. It may help us focus on what story we are hearing in our head.

They told their stories, then I told Israel’s story.

Israel’s story gave them courage, strength, identity, vision. By retelling their story, they learned how to trust God and one another. The stories we tell about our own lives can trap us into patterns of discouragement or can give us hope, energy and clarity to move forward. I showed the healthcare workers how the stories we tell about our lives, our jobs, our families, our marriages really do have power for good or ill.

After finishing my talk, I continued to ruminate about stories, about Israel’s stories, about my stories and about the power of Gospel story.

After leaving Egypt, Israel recounted how YHWH dramatically rescued them from slavery and formed them at Mt Sinai. They told the story to their children. They acted the story in worship. They ate the story in Passover. Whether rising, walking, sitting or sleeping, they rehearsed the story of God’s faithful rescue over and over. This story was and is good news, also known as Gospel.

By rehearsing the story, they fixed their heart and minds and bodies upon the action of the Lord. By rehearsing the Gospel story, they learned to trust in the God they could not see and could not shape into forms.

But there came a day when they forgot to rehearse the story. They quit acting the story. They quit eating the story. They started listening to other stories of other gods. They forgot the faithfulness of the Lord. They forgot the commands of the Lord. They forgot the goodness of the Lord.

I know what it’s like to forget the story of God’s goodness. There have been times when I thought, dreamed and told the wrong story. In my story, I questioned God’s goodness, his faithfulness and his love for me. Once we tell the wrong story, we might get stuck in it.

In 2008, our church building burned and I lost my job. These two events impacted me in a deeper, harder way than over 20 years of battling with kidney disease. A dark cloud engulfed me. I started telling myself a story of failure and forsakenness. In the first story, I began recounting the past 20 years and questioned every decision I ever made. In the second story, I questioned God’s faithfulness.

Both stories battled in my imagination. Some days I’d think every decision I ever made was a bad one. Other days, I wonder why God chose to make me fail in everything I touched. I cried out to God, “Look at all I sacrificed for you! Why won’t you help me?”

The stories stole my joy. My gifted wife saw these false stories as a deathlike grip that was consuming me. In the midst of these discouraging tales, I had to hear again the Gospel story, or the good news God’s faithfulness.

Israel had to hear the Gospel story. Her existence depended on it. After generations of forgetting the stories of YHWH’s lovingkindness, Israel had become apostate. God in his goodness preserved them and honored the obedience of a few righteous kings, but eventually He gave them over to their false stories.

Babylon led the broken people into captivity. Babylon burned down the Temple. Babylon destroyed the land.

The people wept. Their songs and their stories failed them. So they hung up the harp and quit singing altogether. Now they lived in an alien land with alien gods. Abandoned by the God of their fathers. Lost in the darkness. They needed to hear the Gospel story.

Into this dark story of exile, appears a strange man who sees a strange light. Ezekiel encounters the glory of the Lord. The glory that once resided in the Holy of Holies appears to him on the shore of the Chebar canal while he stands among the exiles. To Ezekiel’s surprise, YHWH did not abandon his people as they stood by dark waters. He came in the midst of wind and storm and fire; in the midst of the four living creatures; in the midst of the sound of many water. YHWH came in glory.

And He gave Ezekiel a new story, a Gospel story. As Ezekiel talked, ate, sang and acted out the Word of the Lord, he exposed Israel’s sickly condition. He revealed the death that infected their worship, their imagination, their stories. He began to tell a story about a valley of dry bones.

7 I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ez 37)

In the former story Israel had been enslaved in Egypt and YHWH rescued them from the power of Pharaoh. In this new story, Israel is dead. YHWH raises them from the dead and restores them to be His people “inspired” by His Spirit. As Ezekiel proclaimed this Gospel story, the people come back to life. There are times when a change will be so dramatic, so life changing that we must learn how to hear and tell a new story.

Like Israel, we need to hear again the Gospel that’s too good to be true: Jesus Christ living, dying, rising again and interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. In this story, we hear our story. We’re not forsaken. Death doesn’t have the final word. Our ministries may die. Our friendships may die. Our dreams may die. Our bodies may die. But death is not the final word.

We may face changes in life that feel like death in our bones. We may lose our strength. We may lose things we thought we could never lose. In these times of crisis and dramatic change, we may question the goodness of God. We may question the faithfulness of God. We may damn ourselves in a hell of failure and regret.

The good news of Gospel bursts into this darkness with the light of hope. In Jesus Christ, we encounter the goodness of God who loves us even when we are enemies. In Jesus Christ, we encounter the faithfulness of God that cannot be stopped even by death. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

We must hear Gospel. We must sing Gospel. We must act out Gospel. We must eat Gospel. When we rise, sit, sleep or walk, we rehearse the goodness of God. By His grace, our imaginations come back to life. Even in the midst of the suffering and uncertainty, we learn to sing the new songs of Zion. We rediscover our story in the story of Jesus Christ. Our lives matter. We are created for glory. And He will complete the work He has begun in us.

I encourage you to listen to the Gospel story. Listen again to your story of death and life in Christ.

Categories: stories

What’s Your Story?

April 22, 2010 4 comments

Storytelling circle. Photo by Darien Library (via Creative Commons)

I turned to my wife and said, “So how deeply is God planning to humiliate me?”

You ever say something you wish you could take back?

Frustration gave rise to words that fell out of my mouth like dead birds thumping onto a stone floor. The stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell others are distorted by our blind eyes and deaf ears. We speak wrongly because we see wrongly and we hear wrongly.

The other night, I took a stack of 3 x 5 cards and wrote various movie genres on each card like “Comedy,” “Sci-Fi,” “Mystery” and “Horror.” Then I handed each person in the group card and asked them to tell their story in the genre listed on the card. Within moments, one person told a story of their life as mystery, another as war, another as sci-fi. The genre gave us a lens through which we filtered our memories and perspectives.

As we listen and tell stories, we may realize that our own story is a mystery, a comedy, a tragedy, an adventure and even a horror story. And yet, there are times, we trap ourselves in one story. It may be the story of a relentless pursuit for money like Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street.” It may be the tale of unredeemable regret like Briony Tallis in “Atonement.”

We may get stuck in tragedies like the never-ending martyr, abandoned lover, or forsaken friend. We may die in those stories. Judas betrayed Jesus and then hung himself before the story changed. Peter betrayed Jesus, but later was surprised with the story of renewed love and fellowship as Jesus walked with him along the beach.

Our dreams, hopes and fantasies may collide with our lives. In the fog of the struggle, we may grow blind to all memories and experiences of joy and blessing and love, as we are swallowed by pain and hurt and humiliation. I know this is so because I’ve often been trapped in the wrong stories. Stories I told. Stories I rehearsed. Stories I believed. Stories that were plainly and simply false.

We’re good at believing false stories. Either believing our own press that we’re better than we are or believing the lies of hopelessness and despair.

Two men stumble toward Emmaus. As they walk, they rehearse the loss of every hope, every dream, every thing. Just a few days ago they were watching the beginning of a new day for all of Israel. The long awaited king had finally come. While he still walked and talked in secret, the unveiling of his kingdom and restoration of Israel was imminent. Just a week ago it seemed Jesus was about to ascend his throne and bring the enemies of Israel under his footstool.

But the sun set and would never rise again. They stumbled in dark rehearsing the strange turn of events as Jesus fell into the hands of the wicked and seemed powerless to resist. The one who commanded demons, who raised the dead, who commanded the skies and seas, could not stop the deadly blows of his enemies. Within hours of capture, he was brutally tortured, mocked and hung till dead.

Walking in the sickening grief of all consuming loss, they told a story of monumental tragedy and loss. They told their story to one another. They told their story to the stranger who walked beside them.

As they turned aside for the evening, the stranger turned the story upon them. He stepped into their story. He rehearsed their story, Israel’s story, the story of a world forsaken and cursed by God. As he retold the story, he unveiled the light of God’s faithful Word, stretching from Eden to the end of time. Where they saw despair, he revealed hope. Where they saw loss, he revealed gain. Where they saw death, he revealed life.

Jesus stepped into their story and changed everything. He freed them from the binding and blinding power of stories that crippled and isolated His people from the unveiling of His love. Jesus enters into the story of His people again and again, with light for darkness, laughter for sorrow, life for death.

Sometimes we find ourselves trapped in stories–even good ones. But we are still so very blind and so very deaf. What do we do?

We bring our successes and sorrows to Jesus, the One who was dead but now is Alive forevermore. We come, we cry, we listen, we wait.

Only He can gives us eyes to see and ears to hear. He can teach us how to sing in the dark, laugh in the face of death, play in the light of His unending love. Come Spirit of Christ and teach us. We are blind and we are weak, and we long to hear you, we long to see you.

As we listen to the rhythms of His story, we learn to sing again. Our words take flight and rise into the skies joining in a song of praise to the wonders of His grace.

Crossing Time and Space Through Story

July 21, 2008 Leave a comment

Storytelling allows me to moves across time and space. The grand story provides a foundation for movement across all stories. When I move through stories, I am entering the world of other people. I am entering their time (memories and vision) and their space (body and place).

I can move through stories (worlds) on multiple pivots points. Think of the elements of story: setting, dialogue, character, plot, symbols, mood, and pace. I can connect stories at one or multiple points. So I might move back through in the characters of stories. Take the king or ruler. I can read and experience the many variations of rulers across time through stories written in and about differing time periods.

The rulers make differing decisions, the rulers may be good or evil, the rulers may be young or old. In spite of their differences, they play the same characters. They are rulers because they rule. So I watch and experience their rule in different settings, times, and world. As I watch and listen and experience their worlds, I might see glimpses of my own world. I might gain insight into the rulers of my world or my own ruling decisions.

I can start with setting working our from my home to a variety of domestic dwellings revealed in stories from mud huts to castles. Each setting creates a place where relationships happen. So each setting speaks something of how place influences relationship and how relationships define space.

I might look at symbolic colors of red or white or black. Or I might consider the changing pace in stories from my world to ancient worlds. I might see how the same plot is replayed and repeated in different ages.

Each element of a story can be thought of like a jazz standard. Just as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock might play the same song or standard, they’ll interpret it in light of their own world. Their perspective will highlight unique nuances of the song and capture different experiences based on the time and place of the recording. Thus stories and story elements might be like jazz standards that are reworked in various ways across time and space. If I choose to explore these shifting expressions, I will take an element and watch how it is reworked in various times and places.

So I might learn to listen to other stories. First, I might learn to listen to the stories of the people around me, paying attention to all the elements. Then I might also pay attention or listen to the stories of my culture, other cultures and other times. Each of these elements and stories will shine new light into my own story.

Then I might work through these many stories to the grand story. The Christian story provides a fundamental influence on people born in the Western world. Even though many people see this narrative as a shackle from which they desire to be free, they still require a story to make sense of the world. The West has been so deeply shaped by this story, it is difficult to shake free from it.

They may curse the story but even their curses comes from the power of this narrative which affirms the individual human as distinct (with the ability to curse and bless). As opposed to narratives which deny our individuality and see that individuality as an illusion. In those worldviews, the curse that I utter is still an illusion of my own independence.

So for my reflections, I’ll try to consciously think and talk about how the Christian story provides a narrative that connects all stories. Back to my example of stories about rulers: I can work through all the various stories on leaders and kings and managers and people who rule. Then I can encounter the Biblical narrative.

In this narrative, Jesus is presented is the “ideal ruler” against the backdrop of other rulers such as Herod and Caesar. The sharp contrast of Jesus with other kings in his story and the stories throughout Scripture raises challenging questions about what it means to rule and how a ruler behaves.

I picked an obvious archetype of ruler. But how do I deal with lawyer or plumber or other character? What about mom or sister or friend? If I move beyond characters can I root setting or symbol or dialogue in a grand story? The particularities can be challenging and may not be as obvious as ruler.

But if G.K. Chesterton is correct and Jesus is the story in which all stories intersect, then I can work through each particular story element and find the roots in His story. This may require a deeper understanding of how I encounter Jesus in the story of Scripture. I think most people start with the gospels and try to think of the events of his life.

But actually the Emmaus road story (Luke 24:13-35) indicates that all of Scripture is witnessing to the story of Jesus. So I need eyes to learn how to read this grand narrative and begin to hear and see how His story is unfolded in the midst of stories about Abraham, Moses, David and so on. This is not something I do overnight, but rather I gradually work through this grand narrative, learning slowly and by God’s grace how to see the points of intersection and how to see the light of grace shining deep into the recess of my own story that is filled with pain, struggle, darkness and loss.

My Story, Other Stories and the Story

July 21, 2008 Leave a comment

There are three levels of stories for each person. The personal story, the universe of stories and over-arching story connecting all stories.

Personal Story
I have a story that is really a set of many stories with me in the center. So normally if I think I my story, I am thinking of myself as the central character in the story. While I play a role in the stories of many other people, if I tell my story, I am telling it from the center. No matter how much I try to diminish my presence or perspective, I can’t tell a story outside of my imagination. If I read or act or direct or simply print another story, I will still influence with my perspective through the way I tell the story. My vocal inflection, my characterization, my decisions of motion or even my choice of typestyle influences the telling of the story.

So the first level of stories are stories told through the lens of my memory and vision with me as the center.

Universe of Stories
The second level of stories are stories from the world around me. My stories are within these stories. These are stories told by family and friends as well as strangers. Thus these stories are told from a center outside myself. Even if someone tells a story with me as the main character, it is still being told from their perspective, their world, their memories and vision. This level includes all stories from all history, so it includes great literature, plays as well as tales told and retold by friends and strangers. It is a brimming, exploding, unwieldy world of stories that start and move in endless directions.

Think of this second level like a universe with planets upon planets and galaxies upon galaxies. The vast web of stories extends beyond the ability of my imagination to even begin to grasp. This universe of stories contains every known and every possible story created by humankind. Every emotion, every plot, every character, every symbol, every detail from every human story is within this grand drama.

The Grand Story (Meta-Narrative)
The third level of stories is the grand story that connects all stories. This story provides the primary lens for all stories. Through this lens we define right and wrong/good and evil. Through this lens we can find points of connection with other stories. Through this story we define words and symbols and characters.

Many people never consciously identify this grand story. In other words, this story influences them in a passive manner. They may not be able to articulate a clear narrative even while appealing to that narrative to make sense of the world. For many, it operates in the background.

Some people suggests that there is no grand story, there is no meta-narrative. While they might deny the existence of an over-arching but they would have difficulty suggesting that we don’t unconsciously appeal to some kind of meta-narrative in the way we process our stories. Some people appeal to the grand story by appealing to our common humanity. This appeal is rooted in a grand story that suggests humans are connected by virtue of our humaness (aka – the brotherhood of man).

What is a story and What is my story?

July 18, 2008 Leave a comment

There are probably many ways to define a story and many fancy words to make the definition virtually unintelligible for the rest of us. I was thinking today that on a basic level most, if not all, stories contain a beginning, middle and end. Otherwise, it may simply be an observation. A story indicates motion or change that allows us to speak of a beginning, a middle and an end.

Why a middle? Why not a beginning and an end. Well, I was thinking the “middle” is the transition from beginning to end. No matter how long or short, it somehow connect the start from the finish. Now the telling of story can alter the order of beginning, middle and end in variations such as end, beginning and middle (and back to end again). The variations can be wide-ranging:

beginning, middle, beginning, middle, beginning, middle and end (this is the beginning constantly being redefined which alter the middle and leads to a different end).

middle, end, beginning (I can’t remember but I think memento worked like this).

The various ways we tell a story are not limited just to the structure. We also tell it from a perspective or a point of view. And I don’t just mean through different characters or an omniscient narrator. We might tell it from the point of view of a victim. The same story will look very different it told from the pov of a tireless hero.

Each story contains thousands of other stories. A good example is the Simarillion, where Tolkien tells some of the many stories before the Lord of the Rings. Our personal story works the same way. A story from my life can be as short and simply as the visit to a drive through window at a fast food restuarant. While I may not retell the story often, one day something happens that makes it memorable: bad service or maybe a surprise. That night I tell the “fast food restaurant” to my wife. If the reaction is strong and the story lodges in my memory it may be repeated. If it is really interested, it may be repeated by people beyond my circle of friends.

So stories can take on a life of their own.

The fast food story is one of a many possible stories within a given day. Additionally, there are epochal tracks or repeated scenes/event/stories that combine to former a larger story over time. These stories may be stories may have a defining center that connects them: husband and wife, family, identity, vocation, community, forgiveness, and so on. Different little stories within my life and connect and reconnect with different centers to tell the same story.

I may tell the story of vocation, explaining how I ended up as a bi-vocational minister. Some of the stories within that story when seen from a different angle might combine with other stories to tell the story of my identity. Then again the some of the stories might reform around another center and combine with other stories to tell the story of my 20-year love affair with my wife.

By thinking of my stories in this light, I might begin to see that the stories I tell are not actual events but events filtered through memory combined with imagination/creativity. So a story is creative work that I engage in. I don’t tell the meta story that overarches my life. God tells this story. Sometimes, I see glimpses of his story being told through me, but most often I am clueless as to the richness and fullness and connectedness of that story which connects all stories.

With in mind, I must realize that the story I am telling, I am creating. I am using characters, plots, settings, pace, mood, symbols and more to tell the stories. I have certain lines that I uses again and again, much like the move lines, “I’ll be baaaaaacck” or “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Rarely do we step back from our preoccupation with telling or thinking our own story to analyze. But sometimes it may be helpful.

I might try focusing on other characters. I might consider using a different pov, or a different tone. I might look for other symbols or lines or settings that are already inherent within my stories but I’ve overlooked. I might find a different center, a different connecting points for my little stories. By doing so, I might discover that I could tell my story as a story of sacrifice and suffering at the hands of other in a new way and recast it as a story of power, choice and heroic overcoming of struggles against all odds.

Enough for now. Hopefully, I’ll write more on how I connect my stories with other stories outside myself (literature, arts, history and even the Bible).

Stories upon Stories upon Story

July 16, 2008 Leave a comment

Last weekend Rick Doughty, Brad Getz and I did a retreat on story. This was the second retreat in my series of retreats on wisdom. We started with Meditation upon the 10 Commandments, followed by The Wisdom of Stories (last weekend), then we’ll do “Acting Wisely: the Translation of Wisdom into our Active Life,” and finally we’ll conclude with “Creating the Future with Words of Wisdom.” These four retreats follow Eugen Rosenstock Huessy’s “Cross of Reality,” moving from inward (meditation) to backward (storytelling) to outward (active life) to forward (wise words).

A few thoughts recapping The Wisdom of Stories may follow in future blog posts. I’ll focus what I write primarily on the notes that I used in preparation although I may reference Rick and Brad’s thoughts as they come to mind.

Each person’s life is filled with stories. When asked to tell my life story, the answer might actually be, “Which one?” For I am moving and have moved in multiple stories. Whatever I tell you will be an extraction from the wide web of stories. My wide-ranging stories are within a context of a storied world. And then there are many contexts for stories. For instance, if I consider setting as the basis for context, my stories are set within the context of family and friends’ stories that are set withing the context of a communities’ stories set within the context of a culture’s stories set within the context of the stories of the Western World set within the context of The Story (of stories) – The Word of God.

Stories pivot on multiple points some of which include setting, characters, plots, words and lines, action, symbols and images, tone/mood and pace. Each of these pivots reveals a particular dynamic to a story. Some writers capture the essence of certain pivots better than others. Charles Dickens certainly masters characters and settings. While his plots are often intricate and delightful, I think his real genius lay in creating characters within settings.

Edgar Allen Poe and Nathanial Hawthorne captured mood. For me, the feeling captured in Young Goodman Brown is one of the richest aspects of Hawthorne’s dark tale. I personally think this is particular genius of M. Night Shymalan. His stories create a mood that overarches the story. Some critique the story or the characters but the mood is his real gift.

Pace is the tempo of the story. Some recent films have played with pace both increasing pace or decreasing pace to almost a motionless state (Into the Great Silence). Andrei Tarkovsky films slow down pace, which make his films almost unbearable for some people. At the retreat someone mentioned “Napoleon Dynamite” as a great example of a movie tinkering with pace. Good observation! This may be why the movie seems for some to have no point or no action. It’s capturing an almost suspended state of time. “Run Lola Run” is a great example of a film that goes the oppositie direction and is breathless in it’s movement forward. The Bourne films (like many action films) speeds pace to a blinding fury.

Pace makes me think of Louie Armstrong. I once heard Wynton Marsalis say that Louie’s great genius was in capturing the changing pace of the American life. America was moving from an industrial nation to a communications nations where life is non stop 24/7. Louie’s phrasing both with his coronet and his voice plays with pace.

Sometimes setting is the driving force. Gormenghast tells the tale of a castle with endless halls and twists and turns. The story cannot be extracted from the setting. E.M. Forrestor’s Howard’s End plays with setting (both social and physical) in his fateful tale of a house in the country where two women are connected by being joined to the place.

Think of the power of words and line in stories. They can leave the story and take on a life of their own. “I’ll Be Baaack!” or “Go Ahead, Make My Day” became cultural catch phrases used in everyday life to create new meanings. These trendy phrase might be contrasted with the genius of Shakespeare who gave the world words and lines that continue to drive the way we think and talk. Just consider a few of the following (with thanks to Absolute Shakespeare):

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”
“This above all: to thine own self be true”.
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”.
“Brevity is the soul of wit”.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question.”
“All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts”
“Can one desire too much of a good thing?”
“For ever and a day.”
“Now is the winter of our discontent”
“A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!”
“Off with his head!”
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

And the list of familar quotes goes on and on and on. We’ve used his quotes verbatim and we’ve altered them to create new meanings or new contexts, but the the quotes appear on the mouths of many people who’ve never read one line of Shakespeare. His words live on and shape the way we frame our world.

Sometimes an image becomes so striking within a story that the image like the lines above takes a life of it’s own. We speak of a “scarlett letter” as a public disgrace. Hitchcock took common everyday images and turned them into images of terror. Aladdin gives us the “magic carpet.” Pinochio gives us a nose that grows and grows. These images are extracted from stories and used on our everyday discourse to convey meaning and ideas. Sometimes is less than honest and we mention that their nose might be growing.

All the elements I’ve mentioend thus far (plots, settings, characters, words, lines, images, tone/mood, pace) are conveyed in stories and may be the pivotal element in a story that connects with us or speaks to us. We may not remember anything else from a story but the element that moved us. In fact, we can dislike a story while loving a single element that impacts us.

This impact may be called inspiration. Stories and their elements “in-spire” us. We breathe in their influence. We are in “spired” or in “spirited” by the power of the story. Just as we breathe in oxygen and it keeps us alive, we breathe in these elements and they shape the way we understand and communicate and act in our world. The “inspired” stories become a source of wisdom that shapes us and gives us insight in the midst of living.

In the past, I’ve written about Memory and Vision as the life span of a person. I think stories fundamentally capture the movement between memory and vision, extending from our own story to the stories around us to The Story (the Word of God). I contend like Chesterton that the Bible tells The Story and all other stories are subsets of this story. There is a movement of energy, of vitality, of spirit that moves between these stories. As I consider this movement, this conversation of stories, I might begin to think more deeply of the “Holy Spirit” breathing upon creation, but more on this later.

Stories upon Stories upon Stories

June 15, 2008 Leave a comment

The Bible is not simply one story but many stories. And these stories form patterns that are repeated again and again. For example, the creation story appears in Gen 1 and Gen, but then variations of the creation story reapper throughout the scripture in places like Job, Proverbs 8, John 1 and Romans 1. Each story reflects a different aspect of the pattern.

Some of the many stories appearing in the Scriptures include:

The story of the Law

The story of Sojourn

The story of Slavery and Exodus

The love story between a Groom and Bride

The story of Father’s and Sons

The story of rebellion and redemption.

These are just some of the many stories that appear, reappear and reappear again. All these stories might and probably would have seem disconnected. But Jesus comes and fulfills/embodies every story. All the stories are flowing in and out from Him.

These stories might also be thought of as bardic songs. The ancient Celtic bards would sing songs of adventure and love and nature and war to the people. Their songs not only entertained but also helped forge a common memory of the tribe.

As we read the story (and sometimes realize we are acting in some of the story patterns), we also discover that we are being forged into a common memory of a family that spans time from beginning to end.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar speaks of the complexity of interwoven stories. He calls this a “symphony,” ” a dance fo sound.” Here are few of his thoughts on symphony from the classic treasure, Truth is Symphonic – Aspects of Christian Pluralism.

In his revelation, God performs a symphony, and it is impossible to say which is richer: the seamless genius of his compositions or the polyphonous orchestra of Creation that he has prepared to play it. Before teh Word of God became man, the world orchestra was “fiddling” about without any plan: world views, religions, different concepts of the state, each one playin gto itself. Somehow there is the feeling that this cacophonous jumble is only a “tuning up”: the A can be heard through everything, like a kind of promise. “In and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets…” (Heb 1:1). Then came the Son, the “heir of all things,” for whose sake the whole orchestra had been put together. As it performs God’s symphony under the Son’s direction, the meaning of its variety becomes clear….Initially, (the musicians) stand or sit next to one another as strangers, in mutual contradiction, as it were. Suddenyl the music begins, they realize how there are integrated. Not in unison, but what is far more beautiful–in sym-phony.

Thank You C.S. Lewis

May 24, 2008 1 comment

I just finished The Last Battle, and my heart was stirred afresh by the cries, “Further Up and Further In!” My fourth grade teacher introduced our class to C.S. Lewis by reading portions from the Chronicles of Narnia each day in class. Then I read the books myself, and it was the first time as a youth that I had any longing for the kingdom of God. I didn’t know what I was longing for until I was older, but Lewis’s words awoke this yearning that only grew as I grew older.

Recently I listened to all the audio books again (and realized that I think I somehow skipped the Silver Chair as a youth). After all these years the stories still worked their magic. I felt foolish driving down the road blubbering at various transcendent points in the tales.

So thank you C.S. Lewis for you gift of another world. You helped to train my eyes to see glimpses of the kingdom around me and my ears to hears echoes of a new creation song.

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