Thursday, July 28, 2011

When Words Become Stories

One of the problems people of faith face is how to convey what faith is. While scientists have a whole method or mathematicians have lots of formulas, the grounding of faith is words. Or more specific, the Word or scripture. Over time pastors have spilled lots of ink into sermons and newsletter articles and now blogs to try to capture and cultivate faith. Here is the problem. Words are intellectual by their nature. You are reading these words on your computer screen and it engages the part of your brain that likes to think. You begin to think about whether what you are reading makes sense, where I am being unclear, or where my words fall short or even fail.

For many, many years (beginning with the Enlightenment) pastors thought if we could just come up with the right combination of words it would unlock the right synapse in people's brains and everyone would believe. In short, for far too long, pastors tried to prove faith.
As my son likes to say...there is one small problem with that.

You can't prove faith.

You can experience a sensation in your gut that says there is something going on here that is bigger or deeper than what you can explain.

You can experience goose bumps on your arms or the tiny hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

You can experience the hug of a fellow disciple on the Way that reassures you.

To be honest, that doesn't really prove faith. It does not prove that God exists. It does not prove anything...other than you had a meaningful, life giving, life changing experience.

In the end, that is what faith is...a meaningful, life giving and life changing experience. It is something that happens to you that forever, profoundly shapes how you understand and tell your story about who you are.

Here is my invitation. For one week listen to how people tell stories. In the stories you hear from your co-work, is he always the hero who swoops in at the last second like Mighty Mouse ("Here I come to save the day!")? How about that person you volunteer beside. Is she always the one who makes the mistake?

Then, if you really want a challenge, listen to how you tell stories about yourself.


I am prone to always be the bumbling person...even though in truth I work very, very hard to NOT make mistakes. What does that say that the stories I tell about myself tend to be self-effacing?

But what, the logical part of your brain interrupts, does all this have to do with faith? GREAT question. I think that at the most basic level faith is experienced and shared and conveyed through story. In a few weeks, we are going to be studying the book of Exodus, which is the quintessential story. It has everything. Drama, love, death, grumbling, wandering, miracles. No wonder The Ten Commandments made a great movie.

When we stop trying to play by the world's rules that things have to be logical and rational and always make sense, I think we open the door for the church to be the church. Life is not logical and rational and doesn't always make sense. Life is sometimes joyful like ice cream on a summer evening. Life is sometimes difficult like when you lose your job. or a person you love dies And the way we live life is through stories. So, listen this week to the stories you hear. Not just on the news or in novels, but from those who brush up against in your life.

And you may just notice traces of grace in the stories you hear and share.

Blessings and peace

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Helping Hand

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
(NRSV)

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him Matthew 14:31

I have never enjoyed swimming. Most any other activity I can get into. But something about water freaks me out. So I completely understand why when Peter started sinking down,
when the water went above his knees
when he was chest deep
when the white form of the waves hit his face.

He cried out for HELP!

More specifically, Peter cried out to be saved.

There is a difference between being saved and asking for help. And it is more than just splitting syntax hairs. A helping hand is what we experienced at the church this week. On Monday as the humidity hovered and hung in the air like a wet blanket, about 10 of us gathered to start painting a mural in the education wing. The fans pushed around the warm air, but there was a sweet spirit in the air as we talked with each other, cracked jokes, and awoken our inner artist. It was the church being the church. We were lending a helping hand.

Contrast that to the scripture passage. Peter cries out to be saved. In Christianity today we have turned salvation into an individualistic endeavor. It is about me and Jesus. Me and my own future. Me and myself...thank you very much. Within scripture salvation is always communal. The book of Acts talks about the earliest church coming together, eating together, sharing together and being at peace, finding wholeness in life together. (see Acts 2:43-47).

Peter might be out there by himself. But salvation comes, peace and wholeness comes, when he gets back in the boat with the rest of the disciples. Peter's fear subsides when he is back in the boat with the rest of the disciples. Worship of Jesus comes when they are all in the boat proclaiming Jesus as "The Son of God."

What would it mean to think of salvation in less individualistic ways? For me, it means being more engaged in the church, the community of faith. To be involved with others in talking about the faith, praying together, questioning together, and sharing life with each other.

Let's go a little deeper. We are humans and make mistakes in our communal life. We will say things that hurt each other. Forget to do what we promised. Miss meetings...get caught up in arguments. But, there are traces of grace that can only be found in the church. A potluck meal for one is not a potluck. We need each other. Mistakes in our life together on the Way can either cause division or an opportunity for forgiveness, reconciliation, resurrection and new life to shine through.

I sense God working through the church to bring about wholeness and life that is life and peace that is salvation. Being in a community striving to follow Jesus can save us from fear to trust that love is real. Being in a community striving to follow Jesus can save us from thinking we are all alone out there to experiencing first hand the warmth of another close by. Being in a community striving to follow Jesus can save us from thinking that there are only storms and suffering and sinking down in life... to experiencing the beauty of singing and laughing and painting hallways together. God works through the church, the community of faith to help save the world that God so loves. And being in the boat with other disciples is the helping hand reminding me of the bigger and outlandish claim of God's saving work here and now.

May the traces of God's grace be felt in your life.

Blessings,
Wes