Genesis 1 has a list. Genesis 2 has a story. Many can tell you the things that got created and most get them in the wrong order. Even more can tell you the story of creation and although they might get it turned around a little, a story is a story and its message is still echoed. I am in love with story. Not one story but the idea of story. Scripture is filled with them. Jesus' primary curriculum was story. Unfortunately, when we talk about scripture we are not talking about the story.
Paul gets broken down into quotes and we pick and choose the ones that support us. The Hebrew story gets broken down into laws and we choose the ones we are already following. Jesus gets reduced to a “plan for salvation” and the story of God’s love incarnate gets lost in a quick hitting salvation sales pitch. Somewhere we lost the story.
For Disciples, it may have started when we decided that the Bible (especially the New Testament) was a foundational document for church governance. We looked to the early church to see how they did things and tried to get back to that pure model of living. Unfortunately Paul, James and Peter spend a good chunk of Acts bickering over how the church should run. Paul is constantly writing critical letters dressed up with prayerful adulation that make it clear what not to do but run short on specifics for what should be done.
We get some basics: Share the Lords’ Supper (thanks for passing on those words Paul!), care for widows and orphans, be of one mind in Christ and pray like Jesus is coming back tomorrow. James and other writings give us some other ethical guidelines for Christian living. Unfortunately, no one included a list of which committees to have. No one explained the ecclesial structure of church and how clergy and laity share leadership. No one talked about how to pass on a faith from generation to generation just in case Jesus doesn’t come back in the next few months.
Another way to say it is this: we have the story of the early church to guide us as people of faith but we do not have the bylaws of the early church to guide our congregational business. It makes sense that the idea of restoring New Testament Christianity was a great guiding principle on the American frontier. We were a movement in a wilderness. As the wilderness became the small county-seat community, the suburbs and the urban sprawl, we kept looking to the same texts. As we started institutionalizing church for a smoother process of preservation we kept looking to the same texts.
Over time, we have broken down the story into verses that justify our governance, marketing, promotion, programs and for many of us the existence of our career. Over time we have broken down the Bible and lost the story.
Stories live. They have a heart and voice beyond the characters and facts. Stories breathe and are to be inhaled and exhaled like fresh air. Stories have depth. They are wider than culture and deeper than time.
I remember the Elders in a congregation discussing what they expected the “young people” to learn and there was concern that not enough Bible was being taught. As the conversation progressed, it was clear that one generation wanted to hear another generation quote chapter and verse. They wanted to see that they had successfully preserved and passed down the faith of their mothers and fathers.
What they didn’t understand is that breaking the Bible (or faith) down into chapter and verse doesn’t pass on the faith. Faith is a personal story. It is a relationship between people and God. Each story is beautiful and unique and must live and breathe and develop its own depth.
People seek relationship with a living God, not a hand me down structure. People are seeking authentic relationships with others, not parallel prayer with predetermined parameters. People are seeking something alive! That is why we share our story. We don’t teach the story. We don’t pass on the story. We simply share our story and invite them to join it!
The Bible is filled with stories but they are all part of one bigger story. Our churches are filled with stories but they are all part of one bigger story. Our lives are filled with stories but when we discover that we are also part of a bigger story then our story gains meaning and depth. We start to find purpose in our story and in our life.
An old Cherokee saying goes something like this:
Stories live in the world. On occasion they choose to inhabit people who have a responsibility to share them back into the world. This forms a beautiful relationship. Thus is true with stories, names and dreams.
Our story is alive!
Stop trying to preserve and start sharing it.
Our story breathes!
Take it in and let it flow back out.
Our story has depth!
But it isn’t the kind you can measure so stop trying.
Lists and laws may be easy to memorize but stories have power.
Keep your rules, your chapter and verse, your Bible drills and your archived faith.
Tell me your story and I will more fully know my God!