Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Some people might call me an idealist or a fool, others might call me misguided or brainwashed, but I believe the Christian story is the greatest story ever told.

I mean, think about it. The revelation of God throughout history is a wonderful story. God didn't just wind up creation like a giant clock and then let it tick away. Instead, he participated in it. He didn't just let humanity wallow in its violence and hate, but He has worked throughout history to break the cycle. God doesn't lord over us the fact that we need forgiveness, but instead we are forgiven in such a way that we are freed to participate in God's work of redemption. We deserved karma, but got Grace. As Christians, this is the story we find ourselves in - God's story.

But, like any story, its effectiveness is directly related to its ability to have psychological impact. No one sits around a campfire and tells a scary story by saying:
"This guy one time had a hook for a hand and killed people. No one knows what happened to him. The End."
Instead, they say:
"It was a night, much like tonight. After eating smores and singing songs around the campfire, everyone went off to sleep. Two minutes before midnight, a boy named John woke up and needed to use the bathroom. He wondered out into the bushes to relieve himself when he heard a sound off in the woods. A sound like cold sharp metal scraping against the bark of trees..."

Somehow as Christians we've forgotten how to tell a good story. We've forgotten how to tell a story about the God we serve in a way that viscerally connects with people. We've forgotten how to paint a picture through words and actions that capture the minds of people looking for a place to belong - a story to find themselves in. In short, we've allowed the Greatest Story Ever Told to become worn out and boring.

As a Christian, I'm appalled by this; I'm ashamed by this. And I'm genuinely surprised that the majority of evangelical Christianity isn't outraged by it as well. Instead, what I hear increasingly is that evangelical Christianity needs to have a renewed focus on its Biblical roots, and on its old theology. As if those stories are any different or more effective than the ones we've been using.

Why, I wonder, is there such resistance to change? Why is there such resitance to finding stories about our infinite God that can grip us, that can hold us in their sway, mesmerized by the very thought of a God who encompasses more than creation? Why is there such a tendancy to cling to static formulations of God when, as one of my good friends recently remarked, the most stable things in creation are things that move? Things like electrons, planets, galaxies, seasons, a kid on a bicycle, the ocean. These things are dynamic - they are moving, just like our God. Our God is constantly doing a "new thing" (Isaiah 42-43), constantly revealing himself to us through the Spirit. He is constantly bringing into contact with His infinity and revealing to us the harmonious ways in which He holds together wonderful contradictions - such as losing our lives to save it. Contradictions that tell us the first have to be last. That God became man not to BE served, but TO serve.

Yet our stories are no longer able to convey this in such a way that our culture gets it. We are no longer able to tell this story and have it be good news. We've lost our ability to be salt and light, not because we stopped believing, but because we've stopped understanding what it takes to be healing agents.

This is my quest. My quest is to understand the hurts and frustrations of postmodern life, and meet people there. My quest is to learn how to become salt and light, not by repeating the same old tired stories, but by finding new stories that speak of God in exciting ways. Stories that paint forgiveness as something that frees us for right living, not just something that gets us off the hook. I'm looking for stories that invite us in to explore the infinite God in such a way that we meet with the need for salvation within the very core of our being. This is my quest.

But it takes bravery to do it. Bravery to to teach stories in Sunday School people have never heard before. Bravery enough to be labeled a liberal because of it. It takes the courage to say that some things about the Bible only make sense after you become a Christian. It takes a willingness to talk to people about Christ without *gasp* only quoting scripture. It takes enough maturity to see God as someone who doesn't need us to run to His defense every time someone feels God has mistreated them or not lived up to the hype.

So, as I think about whether or not it matters where you come from, I've come to the conclusion that it does matter. Not because I've come from somewhere (e.g., from point B to C to D in my Christian walk), but it matters because I'm coming from a place where I will do just about anything to make the evangelion - the good news - actually good news. It doesn't matter that I came from a particular church, or came from a particular school of thought - that's old news. It matters that my actions today come from the place God has put me today.

To me, this realization has made the words "Give us this day our daily bread" all the more meaningful and special. No one wants stale bread.

What we want and what we need is to have the greatest story ever, told.

1 comment:

Tracy said...

Wow, how'd you manage to come away from this one with no comments? I've sat around MANY a campfire, and still can't quite fathom the sound of cold sharp metal against tree bark. Tree bark is kinda soft. But anyway, I DO love a good story, and of course Avalon is ringing in my ears (because I'm all about the lyrics too), and more than anything, I want my life IN CHRIST to be the greatest story ever told. Told differently than ever before, because I get to put my spin on it. And so far, I'm pretty happy with it.

I think it does, definitely, matter where you come from. I didn't grow up in a legalistic or even dogmatic environment. I grew up being told the Bible is a hard book, basically best left to the pastor to read and interpret. I embraced Christ as a friend who understood everything, so I could talk to him about anything...which I needed to. In college I fell in with a great crowd of sincere christian students who were, admittedly, a little legalistic. You know, it was a way to protect us, keep us safe from the hostile academic humanists around us. It worked. And it provided structure, and encouraged discipline...Bible study, scripture memory, prayer, worship--four years of REALLY concentrated learning that serve me SO well today.

There's room for structure, and in fact, discipline, even in grace. We recovering legalists tend to abandon structure, that grace may abound. It would be better, in my opinion, to encourage the structure and the discipline in the understanding that they are NOT (I repeat, NOT!) the point. They serve a far greater purpose that is achieved, in part even if we do fall of the read the bible in a year bandwagon. So praise God for the Sunday school take home papers that you'll read with your kids some weeks, and some weeks you won't! That is a priceless foundation.

I come from a lot of other places since college now, and each of them has left its marks--many beauty marks, but some scars. So no one chapter has an inordinate amount of importance and impact. You will like that about getting older!

Here's to fresh bread.