Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Stories that Shape Us

  As humans we are shaped and live by our stories. My childhood was filled with the stories told to me of our family, by my grandparents and great-grandparents. Family stories told at family gatherings and around the kitchen table. Our family stories help us interpret how life is or how life ought to be and shape our identity as a member of our extended family.

  One tradition, I remember the most in my early life was during the period in and around Memorial Day. As a family, we would travel to the variety of cemeteries where family members were buried. Many were graves of relatives who died long before I was born, but during these moments at graveside, my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents would tell me old family stories of the family members I never knew. My grandmother would often open up during these visits and tell me family stories, I believe, upon later reflection she probably regretted having told me, but they were good stories.


  As a child, I was not always as attentive to remembering these stories as I wish now I had been. Many of the stories I do remember are the ones that were repeated multiple times. As I got older, I would often ask someone to repeat a story I could only partly recall. These were the moments, when I would discover my grandmother had second thoughts of having told me the story the first time. I often asked my parents to retell me some these stories, I had only vague memories of hearing and discover no one had told them the whole story.

  We are naturally drawn to stories and once heard, we have a feeling that compels us to seek their conclusion, because stories are exciting. As we get older and enter the life of the community where we live, the church we serve, and the family we create, we gain our own personal experiences which are transformed into our own personal and family stories. As we gain significant life experiences, they begin to shape us and mold our faith and life and we, in turn, build them into our own stories. For example, I have told many stories over the years about my experiences of working as an addiction's counselor. The stories of those individuals who freely shared their stories and experiences confronting the struggles and challenges of recovery from alcohol and other drug problems helped me better understand how God works in the world and how these stories shaped my view of forgiveness, redemption, faith, love and grace.

  You remember these experiences of your life, as a narrative. The impact these experiences have upon you helps to burn into your memory all the specific details, who was there, what was said, how you felt, the relationships that developed, the lessons you learned, the moments of grace and love you experienced and so much, much more. We turn everything into a story, in order, to make sense of life and our place within it. Our stories help us navigate our world, to understand right and wrong, be grateful for grace and love experienced and to provide meaning.

  Jesus taught primarily in story form. Using this method to teach is effective because stories are memorable. We may not be able to remember many of the Beatitudes, but we all can remember Jesus's parables, like, the story of the prodigal son. As a pastor, the sermons that church members can recall best from the past are the ones where I told a memorable story. Church life is filled with narratives. Growing up in the church my most memorable experiences came from church suppers where we would sit around the table and other members would tell us their stories of faith, redemption, and grace and how Jesus Christ made a difference in the person they were today. In the church we hear stories from the pulpit, the classroom and religious books that help us understand who God is, what God wants of us and how we ought to live. The gospel accounts of Jesus' life are narratives and stories of what he said, what he did, the parables he taught, all which reveals the character of God.

  The story had its beginning with ancient Israel, who would learn stories by heart, and then come together for the repeated retelling of the stories of God. In the telling of the stories of their experiences of God, the people of Israel came to see itself as a people on a journey and a God directed adventure.

  Early Christians did not begin telling about being a follower of Christ in the manner of creeds or logical arguments, but by simply telling stories about Jesus. Through these stories they began to shape their lives into his life, which, in turn, shaped their community and their later stories as a community. They, were, quite literally, following Jesus.

  As disciples of Christ, Jesus becomes the center of our story and we are called upon to carry that story forward to a new generation. We, as the church, have become a holy community entrusted to share the story and retell it over and over again. We become people who are Jesus' storytellers who are called upon to narrate the story within the very fabric and substance of our lives and in our worship. What stories do you still need to hear? What stories do you need to tell and re-tell within your church and among your family?

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