Last time I spoke about my experiencing the cosmic Christ as present to me, guiding and teaching me, through the stories of others shared in a story circle and other encounters at Wild Goose this year. I also shared the call to widen our understanding of story to include as heroes those often marginalized, and to make their stories centerpieces of our own weaving of the story of faith.
It can come across as a surprise to some Christians to think of the living Christ as intimately present in the stories of our and other’s lives. So often we treat the Bible as God’s Story, as if God spoke and acted only long ago in the days of its pages, but now is distant. We are left not within a living relationship with an active, loving God but instead a dead rulebook. As evangelical youth leaders of my teenage years used to say, we have in its pages a “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”.
Scripture, though, isn’t a set of doctrines. It isn’t really a list of rules. Rather, it is a story, the story of the experiences of women and men of faith as told by others.
Writing about the ways in which Scripture as story continues to have a living influence on our lives, St. Paul writes,
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. . . Now these things occurred as examples…” (1 Corinthians 10).
When read as an account of stories in which we can find Christ, we no longer have to worry about apparent conflicts in the Scripture. Rather than giving us one pristine picture of God, life, and the world, Scripture gives us testimonies of experiences of God. Shaped by unique individuals, unique experiences, at unique points of time, Scripture has many different images of God.
God appears as a mother bird to the Psalmist, as a head of the armies of heaven in Joshua and Judges, as living waters and fire in John and Acts, as the Wisdom at play in all creation in Proverbs. The list goes on and on.
Because of this, at times laws are listed when God is experienced as the One inspiring the organizing of community into one with stability and security. At times song and poetry are shared. This occurs in the story of Scripture at times spontaneously, as a response to a move of God inspiring people to break free from the patterns of the day. At times it is a part of the ongoing experience of pilgrimage, which occurs with the rhythms of rainfall, planting, and harvest as in the ascent psalms of Scripture which are a part of the festival cycles.
When one attempts to line up the diverse words, images, ideas of Scripture all into one picture, as folks often do when attempting systematic theology, one finds contradictions and conflict. Read as story, however, Scripture becomes an invitation to join in the ongoing story-circle of the church.
I helped with confirmation at the church I attend a few years ago. During confirmation, our pastor Rev. Dr. Jill Edens told the teenagers considering whether to confirm as their own the Christian faith they were baptized into that a helpful way to look at Scripture is as if when we open its pages we are gathered around table at family reunion. While there, family members each tell their stories about important times in the family. At times the way one uncle or aunt tells the story may be different than another family member’s. The details differing are not then viewed as if the family reunion is broken. Rather, the more experiences shared deepen our understanding and experience.
So the Bible is a collection of stories within which, when we listen with ears and eyes to understand, we can experience the living presence of Christ. Yet we are not just invited to hear but to join the story circle.
The beautiful thing about family reunion as analogy for Scripture is that when we gather around the family reunion table, who is there changes year to year.
I still remember as a little boy family reunion including my uncle John, aunt Elaine, great aunts and uncles, all gathered around the long table at great granny Vida’s rolling green lawn while my cousins and I play back and forth around the trees.
Today many of those faces are not at that table. I still remember great granny Vida’s funeral, which led the family reunion to meet elsewhere, and all the many other who have passed. Yet their stories live on in each of us who come each year. We still tell stories of grandma Myrtie and Grandpa Charles, which each of us telling the stories differently. Through telling their stories they are present in us. Yet we also add to the story, sharing about our various stories of going to school, working hard, falling in love, raising kids. The stories grow as we add our own.
When understood as a story in which we are invited to become characters, a play in which we are invited to become actors, we find ourselves invited to add and expand the story.
In my own tradition, the United Church of Christ, this invitation to join the story and expand it is summed up in the maxim “God is still speaking”.
Recognizing that God’s story is not locked up in a book, as if God is a dusty idea on a shelf, but ongoing in me, in you, and in our world, is acknowledging God is alive and at work. If Christ is risen, as the Christian story says, then the same living Christ present with the first Christians, present in heroes of faith like Ignatius, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, and Sojourner Truth is present with us and in us.
How do you find yourself in God’s story? How do you become an active participant in helping join in God’s story?
Your progressive redneck preacher,