Why Stories Matter

In my favorite seminary class, Theology, Narrative, and the Well Written Life, we read several memoirs to see how authors used their stories to convey theological truths. In addition to reading, the course also required the disciplined practice of personal narrative writing. Through writing, reading, listening, and response, we learned to do our own redemptive truth-telling. Sometimes, that redemptive truth-telling shows up in the form of raw stories and authentic narrative. Even in the best of contexts, truth-telling is hard work.
Confessional memoirs grew out of a strong Christian tradition, as those who’ve read Augustine’s Confessions can attest. A memoir can be described as a window into a life – not a chronological history, but a collection of scenes that paint a picture of the author’s soul. It is the space between fact and feeling. The overlap between memoir and testimony and preaching became clear as we read our first book Preaching as Testimony. In it, Anna Carter Florence encouraged us to recognize preaching as “waking up” – to be willing to fully embody the crisis of preaching and to be aware of what God is doing in your life. She says “there may be narrative without testimony, but there should never be testimony without narrative. Testimony is empty without the life through which it speaks.” This idea of waking up and owning who we are is the only path to finding our authentic voice.
Through this class, I came to realize how much our environments shape our spiritual walk. Our families, our communities, our culture, and our geography all influence who we become. These realities construct our view of God and of ourselves. I grew up as a preacher’s kid, I was a middle child and only daughter, I had a large extended family that celebrated holidays together, I lived in small towns and suburbs; all these realities formed me in various ways. Sometimes we have control over those environments; more often we do not. When we appreciate their unique contributions and stay awake to their potential to teach us, we can make connections between what was, what is, and what we believe about those environments as we remember and write.
I also learned the value of reflecting on the past. The more stories we tell, the more we can connect the dots to see the arc of narrative that God is working on throughout. The psalmist reminds us One generation commends [God’s] works to another; they tell of [God’s] mighty acts. They celebrate [God’s] abundant goodness and joyfully sing of [God’s] righteousness. Sometimes God’s “big picture” is not clear until nearer the end of your life. But the smaller portions of the picture are just as important. When we reflect on our past, we are able to better understand our present. We recognize that our time on earth is short, and we have a responsibility to love and serve those around us. When we live fully into this present, we are also able to envision a preferred future – a future which becomes a legacy for others that will follow. We remember because we want to be remembered. We remember God’s faithfulness because we want God to be both remembered and worshiped.
Because our stories intersect with the stories of others, I learned the importance of listening to those around me. Everyone has an untold story, layers of a past that filter their present. They, too, need to find their own “authentic voice.” When we listen to the stories of people who are different than us, we learn to let go of the habit of privileging one set of experiences over another. We learn to respect diversity and open ourselves to differences. As we’ve especially seen during this contentious election season, the ability to talk honestly and genuinely with others requires grace and acceptance. Robert Frost wrote “the best way out is through” and sometimes that means communicating through tears, anger, and conflict. Each of our stories is difficult and beautiful in unique ways. I am learning that the only way to navigate through obstacles and prejudice is to speak truth, take responsibility, and acknowledge that everyone has an important story to tell. Our dialogue can be redemptive work that opens windows into others’ lives for a fresh perspective on their personalities and their passions.
Writing requires discipline and intention. Writing, like anything that has value, deserves a block of time on my calendar. Writing, like ministry itself, always takes more time than I expect but never returns to me empty. My best testimony grows out of personal experience and life narrative. My particularity, my uniqueness is what makes my voice authentic. Who I am does and should influence what I believe and what I say about life, about God, and about God’s word.
My story matters.
Your story matters.
Our stories matter.

In her book, How the Light Gets In, Pat Schneider asks “What is saved or redeemed or ransomed in the act of writing?” She believes writing saved her life. By writing memoir, she ransomed her life from silence and found her voice. Schneider continues “Something in me that was broken, cracked, becomes whole. The cracks, if I write them with utter honesty, are where the light gets in. The present meets the past, and healing begins.” At the end of her book, she shares a blessing for writers, and I’ll close with this excerpt of her benediction:

May you hear in your own stories the moan of wind around the corners of half-forgotten houses
and the silence in rooms you remember.
May you, too, pull darkness out of light and light out of darkness.
May you hear in your own voice the laughter of water falling over stones.
May you hear in your own writing the strangeness, the surprise of mystery,
the presence of ancestors, spirits, voices buried in the cells of your body.
May you have the courage to honor your own first language,
the music of those whose lives inhabit your own.
May you tell the truth and do no harm.
May you dare in your own words to touch the broken heart of the world.
May your passion for peace and justice be wise;
remember, no one can argue with story.
May you study your craft as you would study a new friend, or a long time, much loved lover.
And all the while, lost though you may be in the forest, drop your own words on the path like pebbles and write your way home.

Let the one who has ears, listen.
Let the one who has story, speak.
Let the one who has life, write.

The Path that Curves to Mystery

May 2018

The path that curves to mystery may not be seen from here

A shaded bower hides from view a future cloaked in fear

Along the way a vision of the world in pieces still

A mourning dove in silent perch observing all I will

In quiet contemplation of my walk on gravel small

Review my steps and coo her cheer to trav’lers one and all

The rocky crag, the towering oak, the crystal lake serene

Maintain their overview of all the places I have been

A yellow field of wildflow’rs, a distant barn of red.

A deep cerulean canopy expands above my head.

Through varied turns, an overgrowth of vines enclose the space

A camouflaged reality escaping my embrace.

What lies beyond I do not know, the journey is not clear

The destination beckons me beyond a month or year

Yet halting steps into the dark, there suddenly will be

A far-off mountain range in blue with striking clarity

I may not see a juncture ‘tween the mountain and my feet

But God who curves the path can circumspect the two to meet.

Cautious or Courageous?

A repost from 2013 –

My journey through vocation and ministry has been a long, winding road. Very few people have heard my full story, because at various intersections and roadblocks I’ve been able to overcome barriers without making a lot of noise. Additionally, I am cautious about what I post, or where I share my stories, because I don’t want people to jump to conclusions about what I believe without being willing to have an actual conversation about it. And there was a time when I was in a ministry job where I feared if I “showed my hand” too soon (or too loudly) I would have risked losing my income. I’m not so fearful now – partly because as a full time student, I have no income to lose. 🙂  But I also think that maybe my passion for God’s word and God’s will has fueled my courage for God’s women.
Many stories shared via Mike’s blog have been from God’s women within the churches of Christ who have stayed in those fellowships and found a voice and an outlet for their gifts. My path, instead, led me from non-instrumental churches, to a church plant that used acappella worship but allowed instrumental special music, to an “evangelical” independent Christian church…and most recently to seminary. I grew up a preacher’s kid who attended a small Christian school and two church of Christ colleges. I didn’t wake up one morning in my “c of C” life and say “HEY! I don’t fit here!” I just kept asking questions along the way, and watching to see what doors God would open.
The churches of Christ I attended in my 20s allowed me to work in children’s classrooms and cook for potluck suppers. If memory serves me well (and I’m 50 years old, so no guarantees) I participated by singing on a praise team a few times (on the front pew, with a mic) before congregational dissenters put an end to that novelty. When I was in my 30s, the church plant we joined allowed me to sing “special music” but not lead worship…when we merged with another church plant, women were allowed to sing on a praise team that led worship from the front, with microphones. That is, as long as a man was actually leading the praise team.
When we joined an independent Christian church it was immediately evident that women were allowed to do much more. Women occasionally read scripture or prayed in the service. Women were allowed participate on praise teams up front. Women were allowed to serve as “ministry coordinators” (their term for deacons, so no one could complain about “women deacons”). As a ministry coordinator I was allowed to lead a group of first impressions volunteers.
After we’d been there three years, I was hired as the Children’s Ministry Director. As such, I was considered part of the “pastoral staff” and I was allowed to attend all staff and elder meetings. In addition to “administrating the programs” involving children and families, I was allowed to participate in hospital calls, pastoral care, long range planning, and curriculum development. I co-wrote a class on spiritual gifts and led a church-wide initiative to connect people to serving opportunities. I led small-group Bible studies, and even spoke – from the pulpit, with a Bible in hand – for non-Sunday morning special services (twice in 11 years). I was allowed to do ministry in many ways.
I was “allowed” to do ministry.
Yet, in 1st Corinthians 12:4, 11, 18 we read      There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them…All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. …God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
And in Ephesians 4:7, 11-12 says     To each one of us grace [gifts – same Greek word] has been given as Christ apportioned it…Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up
The Spirit distributes… God has placed… Christ apportioned…
Calling and giftedness are the role of the Godhead. Not one of the passages on spiritual gifts limits any specific gift to a specific gender. Not one of the passages on spiritual gifts suggests that church leaders have the job of assigning specific gifts or roles to specific people. Instead, church leaders are exhorted to equip God’s people for service. In fact, the purpose of such variety is for the benefit of the whole church, as well as for the growth and maturity of the individual using those gifts. Consider these other scriptures:
Continuing Ephesians 4: 12-16…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith…and become mature…speaking the truth in love we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament [NJB says “every joint adding its own strength!”] grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
And Romans 12:3-6…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
And I Corinthians 12:6-7There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
When I am asked a question about what I believe about women in ministry, the challenge often presented is “What about what the Bible says?”  Generally, they are referring specifically to the two limiting passages, 1 Timothy 2:11 (I don’t permit a woman to teach or to assume authority) and I Corinthians 14:34 (Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak). If that was all the Bible said on the topic (as in the much often quoted attitude God said it, I believe it, that settles it!), there would be no debate, right? Life would be so much simpler…
Ah, but that’s not all the Bible says on the topic. And the spiritual gifts passages (encompassing over 52 verses in four different books) are just one example of that tension within God’s word. It can’t all be harmonized perfectly. So the reader must use discernment in reading and interpreting and applying the texts – all of them – in a way that brings glory to God and supports the ultimate goal of bringing others into the kingdom. In connection with those goals, there are two additional passages that we should note.
I Peter 4:10-11:Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
I Timothy 2:2-4 (yes, please note this comes right before one of the limiting passages)…live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
There is no doubt that topic is deep and important and valuable to all of us (not just me and my daughter, who is even more courageous about the conversation than I have been). Our families, our churches, and especially church leaders need to be willing to have these hard conversations. I believe God will hold us accountable for using our gifts the way He intends (not the way society always expects) and I also believe God will hold us, as leaders, accountable for being good stewards of the gifts he’s given each of our church members, including women.
We need to encourage each other to have genuine dialogue about things we disagree on, not just assume that what has always been is the only reality in which God can work, or that cautious avoidance will prevent rocking the proverbial boat. And in the meantime, while we wait for important conversations to take place, we need to be courageous. Courageous enough to use the gifts God has given us and encouraging others (both men and women) to do the same.

Turning the Page

Thanks for checking out my updated blog. I’ll be moving some content over from the previous one, and creating new posts to keep the conversation going. If you like to talk about theology, ministry, and how the two intersect in our lives, you’ve come to the right place.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.

— Izaak Walton