Tag Archives: story

The Lent story and your story: Precious gifts for listeners

I woke up early last night, in the deep dark, flooded with stories. I have experienced a downpour of precious heartfelt tales in the last few days. I have one more segment of a weekend retreat with budding spiritual directors today. Much of what we have done centered around practice sessions which our teachers and colleagues devoted to experiencing God with us. “We beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth.” Our stories are meeting God’s.

The first night of the retreat I woke up with a pain in my calf. I could go back to sleep, but I can still feel the  ache of the Charley horse. This night I am awake with a heartache. Some of the stories I heard contained heartbreak, some great joy and depth. But all the stories stretched my soul. I heard further stories from my family and my cell. I remembered some significant events from my own story. And I entered into the yearly retelling of the Great Story of Lent, which dares us all to become grounded in our own telling as we look into the eternity Jesus has opened up for us. Lent stretches us all.

Romanian Lent story
Click pic for Romanian ritual associated with Lent

The Lent ritual can ground us

We need to go on the Lenten journey each year for several reasons.

1) We are not who we were last year and we need to keep moving toward home. Our personal story linked to The Story needs to be re-viewed and edited.

2) The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus has to be played out in our bodies. We need to feel it in our bones as individuals rooted in the earth, fully present, here and now. And we need to feel the story in the bones of the body of Christ, our church, also anchored in a place and in a time. Like Jesus is an incarnation of the Spirit of God, in him we also embody heaven and earth. The story of Jesus is an example for us in how we are to retell that union day after day. Lent draws us to do the telling.

In his famous book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat neurologist Oliver Sacks told the story of a woman who had lost her sense of her body. We all have a sense of knowing where our body is. But she said, “I feel my body is blind and deaf to itself. It has no sense of itself.” We can all imagine the commitment it took to regain whatever sense she could of being fully herself. It began with telling her story to her loved ones and doctors and remaking connections. It seems to me that Lent always comes just in time, just before our sense of reality is swallowed up by other forces. We can lose our sense of ourselves in Christ. I can only imagine how 2020 swallowed up your life. I know I have come to admit it was probably the most difficult year of my long life. Lent challenges me to enter the story again and find my footing on the old path which is, again, new to me as who I am now, getting a sense of myself.

Telling our Lent story keeps us going

Alan Jones, in his book on Lent, Passion for Pilgrimage, says,

We need a song to sing, a story to tell, a dance to dance so that we know where we are and who we are. But we seem to have lost the art of storytelling and dreaming. Singing bits and pieces of what we know and telling snatches of half-remembered stories are better than nothing. The more we sing and tell the old, old story the less we will be satisfied with psychological and spiritual junk food, with false and temporary means of embodiment. Individually and collectively we feed on junk food – we hum snatches of tunes, dance a few steps, tell the fragment of a story. All this keeps us alive but barely. The Church invites us into a painful and passionate process of discovering who we are by the telling of story. It offers us the kind of food that will make us into a true body with others….Lent creates the space for us to dare a little in the direction of passion. We begin daring to hope for a homecoming. We already know scraps of the tune. It is now a matter of listening to the same old story to catch all of it.

I suppose for a few of my readers (and certainly for people you know) a resistance to Lent is well-formed. We always resist change or we would not be able to maintain the evils we do to ourselves and others. Even though we love what Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17, RSV), we still experience this newness as a kind of suffering. We don’t want to tell the story of how we feel disembodied for the shame of realizing we are not perfect. We will not go home, like the prodigal son in the Lord’s story must, because we would have to remember and tell the story of where we have been.

Image result for schitt's creek redemption

Lent gently but firmly insists that we find meaning in the empty spaces within us which are surrounded by the damaged and deluded senses that form our reality. Lent is a story, again and again, of how God emptied herself to become one with us, to reopen a way to our fullness. In that same chapter Paul says, “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God breaking in like that shined a painful light on how empty it is to find our meaning in 80 episodes of Schitt’s Creek. But isn’t it also amazing that fragments of goodness in that junk-food show lead us to turn our attention to something deeper in us and deeper in God! For those listening, a redemption story is being told every day.

Lent is our story meeting God’s

I don’t know about you, but it often feels like the deep, dark night of the world to me. I ache. I wake up with stories on my mind. Granted, I am kind of a professional story holder. But I am sure you experience the same kind of suffering as you relate to yourself and others and you run into the parts of your story and others which no one wants to remember, much less tell. To that achy place of resistance, Jesus is coming. I love how we open up a whole season of the year to welcome Him.

Lent is the disruption in the schedule that meets the disturbance of our souls. In that passionate place, Jesus meets us and saves us – a first time and again and again. The story of how Jesus saved us and saved us again needs to be told again this year. The story of Lent, how God loved the world in Jesus, didn’t condemn it, and opened up the way to freedom from sin and death for the whole world has many ways to be told again, and needs to be told. If you resist even the idea of that passion, you must have a soul. And that soul has a home waiting. The story of how you get there is precious.

An ongoing story: Were the Mennonites wooed by Nazi acceptance?

I stumbled upon the surprise “hit” workshop today at the Mennonite World Conference. Teens and adults piled into Astrid von Schlachta’s seminar on how the German Mennonites reacted to “NS” (National Socialist/Nazi) government. She has done some new research.

The German Mennonites of the 1930’s, as it turns out, were enthused with Adolf Hitler, who seemed religious and, more importantly, seemed to be  eager to include them in the greater life of the nation. As a people who had been excluded for so long, they were eager to be included after a long isolation. The Baptists and Methodists also had a similar reaction. Plus, many people thought Nazism was a lesser threat than Bolshevism.

Discussion was vigorous among those gathered. I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been. Many U.S. Mennonites have German and Russian ancestors. Not only did they have grandparents who went through WW2; they still have not reconciled with the “enemy.” They have memories. Those memories have not been talked through. Seventy years after the war, this group of people seems to be getting to the place where someone can hear their stories. From the eagerness with which some spoke, it appeared that no one had asked them to talk much yet. The “quiet of the land” seem to have kept a lot of unseemly things quiet.

How about our own story?

I have experienced similar commitment to “keeping things quiet” when I have told my own story or asked about things that were supposed to stay hushed up among the Brethren in Christ. I am rarely accused of being untruthful or insincere, but I am often taken aside and told I am “rude.” I forget the cultural collusion that is often at work to keep what is horrible in its horrible box. Long after the monster has lost its fangs, the habit of keeping the lid on stuff is still at play. Anything that resembles the trauma gets a lid-banging treatment.

The historian asked our seminar what they thought should be done with her research. Several people stood up to tell stories and to encourage others to do the same; they need to be heard, not quieted. Some wanted reconciliation — like between the Dutch and German Mennonites, who could work jointly on the history project, not just nationally. One young man stood up and offered what I thought might be the best response. He said, “Stay radical.”

The longing of the 1930’s German Mennonites (and other minority religious groups) to be accepted by the world is what looks worst in hindsight. Every time the world accepts Christians into the mainstream, it snips off bits of what makes them distinctive. Christians, in general, not just the radical reformers, should take note. The New Testament has repeatedly warned that the things of the world will steal the heart of the gospel from us. Perhaps it will be incremental, but before long they will get to the core and our faith story will be at and end.

As Circle of Hope has been considering how to connect even better than we have, this has been a lively discussion among us, too. How do we use the tools and language of the people of our era without pandering so hard we end up exactly like them? Do we really want to be in the place where we beg people to accept us? Worse, do we want to be snuggled up in the world at the cost of our souls?

The story: What DID God see in you (and in us)?

C. 1400 Ravanica Monastery, Serbia
C. 1400 Ravanica Monastery, Serbia

Jesus sent a man who was blind from birth to the Pool of Siloam and he came up out of the cleansing bath with his eyesight restored. We have been talking about it ever since.

When we tell the story, we usually focus on what the newly-sighted man saw in Jesus. What we don’t usually talk about is what Jesus saw in him.

We learn to see ourselves through  Jesus lens

As John tells the story, it is obvious that John admires the formerly-blind man very much. His telling gives me the idea that Jesus must have spoken about him fondly, too. Maybe the former blind man even became one of the disciples who travelled with Jesus, and John was telling his friend’s story. Someday in eternity maybe I’ll find out about all these details.

Jesus saw something in that man who later on saw something in Jesus. I wonder what he sees in you.

As I was saying last night, as the first day of the blind man’s sight wore on, his insight and boldness grew deeper and more impressive. The Pharisees were sure Jesus had done something evil to open his eyes, especially since the Lord violated Sabbath rules to do it. But the former blind man did not bend under their pressure to take their interpretation of his reality. Instead, he learned how to see and speak stronger and clearer. The man’s replies to his abusers became so profound they bear quoting:

Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
  He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
  Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
  The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
  To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out (John 9:26-34).

I have no way of knowing this for sure, but I still think that Jesus discerned what kind of sight he was going to give this blind man when he first saw him at the side of the road. We are so astounded by the tangible miracle of a man receiving his sight and so interested by Jesus spitting into the clay earth and making mud (reflecting how God made humans out of dust), that we miss the miracle of what new physical sight unleashes in this man’s heart and mouth.

On his first day of sight his parents don’t get too involved, the leaders of the synagogue attack him, and they finally throw him out of the synagogue for not denouncing Jesus. It is a big change from making a living as an invisible beggar! Through it all, the man just keeps gaining more faith and voicing it – and this is even before he meets Jesus face to face. When Jesus comes and finds him, the man sees what is in Jesus and worships him. Jesus saw something in the man and the man saw something in Jesus and life was never the same again. I think Jesus knew this was a man whose eyesight would lead to heartsight. I think he noticed a person who would hold on to the truth in the face of upheaval and opposition. I think Jesus expected him to connect with him, as the man did.

What’s your story?

The man just kept telling his story all day, and I feel like telling it too. But what I really want to get to is your story. What do you think God saw in you when you two ran into one another? Maybe you were actually sitting on some curb somewhere. Maybe you were not even looking for a Savior and were quite acclimated to your condition. What did he call out in you? What is he still calling out? Someone, maybe even one or two of your own inner voices, is probably telling you, “You’re sinful. Shut up or get out!” But what did Jesus see in you in spite of all those voices?

When we were telling our stories at the Love Feast last Saturday, I had to think, “And what did God see in us?” Not too long ago we were a semi-disabled, little group of people sitting by the side of the road. Jesus decided to stand us up, enable us and send us. I don’t think we imagined what would become of us: nearly sixty cells, four congregations, creative compassion teams, including our thrift stores and counseling center, so much community, sharing and vision! But I think Jesus saw the possibilities. We have some traits just like the blind man he restored.  Here are three:

1) We can tell stories. We do it in our meetings, face to face in our cells, through music, through acts of compassion, through writing and all the virtual processes. One of our friends was saying last week, “When I first visited you guys, I knew I needed to move here and be a part of what God is doing.” He got it.

2) We don’t give in to the irrational demands of the powers that be, either. Like the man said to the religious leaders, we say things like, “So you think that is true?” or “You think that will work?” Right now a bunch of us are on the street trying to get the powers to think straight about public education. Shalom House cancelled their potluck tonight so they can get engaged with drones! God’s miracles get discounted every day and we deal with that. We are not easy to divert from our radical ways.

3) And we are also still asking whether someone wants to be one of Jesus’ disciples, even though people seem to think evangelism is illegal! The former blind man certainly knew what he was doing when he asked the furious leaders if they also wanted to be one of Jesus’ disciples. But he did it. Why not? He was not really looking for a whole new life when he met Jesus, either. But he was glad he met him, anyway! There are no doubt a lot of other blind people hoping to see.

Soak Up Generativity

At the memorial for Gwen’s mother, I read a portion of John 14 and this was part of it:

       If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
      Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
      Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?

Generativity is right before out eyes.

Does it also seem amazing to you that Philip and the rest of the disciples are often unable to see what is happening right before their eyes? Contrary to all the evidence, when Jesus tells them something, they want more evidence. I wish I could not relate to that.

I have experienced so many wonderful things in the past week that bubbled with generativity! They had the Father in them. They were like Jesus showing me the Father. God has been so evidently at work! Yet in each instance of joy and creativity there was a choice to make, because there was also a whisper of judgment and a way to see the situation otherwise. I saw Jesus. But he had to ask me, “Don’t you know me? Don’t you believe the Father is in me?”

List where you have been able to soak it up.

Maybe it is just me, but you might be going through similar challenges. So I thought I would encourage you to list where you have been able to soak up generativity. I make lists and I tell stories, 1) so I don’t lose track of my blessings in some morass of self-centeredness or self-condemnation, 2) so I don’t devalue God by ignoring grace. Today, I have a long obvious list. There were many moments last week that were pleasantly generative.

  • Touch. 1) When Michiko came up out of the water after her baptism, we spontaneously leaned in and touched our foreheads. 2) My grandson lolled on my lap for a good part of the Love Feast.
  • Retreat. I was away with the men last weekend. I had nothing to do but encourage and be encouraged, to soak up the Spirit and the energy of seekers.
  • Direct address. A person went out of their way to talk to me and not about me when they were worried about what I said. This is one of the most countercultural things Christians do.
  • Stories. The stone was repeatedly rolled away as people spoke at the baptism and the Love Feast.
  • Laughter. 1) The cooks at Cosi crashed their tools around so loudly when our cell was talking we could not stop laughing. 2) When Oliver and Nat were dancing on the ottoman to tunes from Beauty and the Beast, that was memorable.
  • Connection. Sixty or so children and State Representative Jordan Harris were at the building for a Childs Elementary art show. It was riotous and full of joy.

Don’t undermine your list, soak in it.

I think many of us gravitate toward seeing the dark side of most situations. A touch can feel painful. A retreat can feel lonely. A direct statement can be frightening. Stories can create envy. Laughter can seem like an interruption. Connecting can be tiring. We could have Jesus promising us eternity and need one more piece of evidence to feel good. Jesus could tell us he is going through death to bring us into life and we would be distressed he is dying. We are like this.

I say you should make your list and try not to even think about all the reasons your list is dishonest, tainted or troubling. Just soak in the generativity. If there is a drop of goodness coming your way, if you can see even a rivulet of grace flowing through the past week, let it reach you, get wet. I think we are in an ocean of God’s favor. It would make sense to take off the wet suit of fear, shame or whatever it is and feel it. This is me unzipping.