The Stories We Tell

Inspired By: Isaiah 50:4-9
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
…who will contend with me? Let us stand together?”

These words, meditated upon this week, have drawn my heart to consider what it would look like for us to tell a new story in the midst of a crisis that leads us into such an uncertain ending.

April 4, 2020 Message | The Stories We Tell

There seems to be no better time to enter into this exploration of corporate stories in the midst of crisis than when together we stand at the entrance of Holy Week.

We begin today a story that most churches will begin tomorrow; a story Christians remember and celebrate as the moment Jesus enters Jerusalem as Savior and King. A moment Jesus presents himself to the public riding a donkey, a large crowd gathering and laying palm branches and their cloaks across the road. A moment in which we witness the masses offering Jesus a treatment reserved only for the royal.

This is story brought to life in the echoes of people shouting after Jesus, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

 This is the first page in the story of Holy Week, and, if you were to begin the story without having heard the rest before, you would be surprised when you turned the page.

Betrayal, Crucifixion, Resurrection.

This is the story we know. This is the story we have committed to trusting in and preaching on and responding to. This is the story that ends in resurrection, not simply for the main character, but for all people born into the story birthed anew in each generation.

And, so Isaiah speaks to us with such relevancy this morning,
“The Lord God has given me a story, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”

On Thursday, I participated in a conference-wide clergy conference call led by our Beloved Bishop. In the sixty-minute stream of supportive space and directive actions, I heard advice to print off end of life directives, to think about replacing key leaders if they become ill, to write up ministerial instructions in the case that I were to become ill.

And, I could become ill. This virus has shown taken young, healthy people. I would not be the first…nor the last.

This was the moment, this harsh push into the reality in which we all stand, that silenced the shouts of from the crowd celebrating Jesus’ name. A scene of celebration shifting into a murky middle now meandering between emotions as it discerns which scene will be written next.  

We may know the ending of the story Palm Sunday, how it begins and what the middle feels like and what the end promises us, but now we too stand in our own story. In our own story we sit on the side of a road, now scattered with palms and silent of shouts, and we wait for the next scene with little assurance for which direction the show will go next.

While we are blessed inheritors of the story of Palm Sunday, we find ourselves in a story of pandemic that promises as many turns and twists, death and devastation, as did Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem. 

The story that we choose to tell now is of the greatest importance. The story that we tell, it is a decision, it is a commitment, it is a promise that we offer.

This story that we tell dictates what we choose to pay attention, it determines what we look for and where we expect to find it. Placed in the inheritance of a story, we must pay attention, we must look for life.

And so, we work within this narrative formula of experimental restoration. We become attentive to signs foreshadowing the promise of resurrection. For, it is Jesus who teaches us the very practice of redemptive storytelling in his own journey during Holy Week. He teaches us this craft of rewriting normative narratives and publicizing a story that walks us beyond the scenes of death.

And, as Isaiah points out in our scripture, to write such a story is often laughable. For who wants to believe that in this story a promise awaits us at the end?

The question that we are then invited to ask in our own story telling then becomes this, “Can resurrection happen through the story we are telling around the experience we are having now?”

So, I invite us to take a moment and to think about our week and to notice what did we pay attention to:
Who were we listening to and what were we looking for?

Which stories grabbed our attention and tangled us up?

Which scenes circled around us and set us free?

As a faith community on The Land, we are committed to connecting with creation. To flatten not only the curve of this virus but also the curve of the hierarchy that has disconnected and damaged us from our relationships with all sentient beings.

This identity and commitment to connecting with creation offers us an intersection of celebration for the temporary yet monuments reduction of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions which have fallen across continents as countries try to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. Using emissions-detecting satellite images, the New York Times reported “huge declines in pollution over major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Atlanta.”

In response to this report by the New York Times, USA today reported that although there is “decreased air pollution in areas practicing social distancing … air quality will likely revert to its previous state once normal activity resumes as cities and countries manage to quell the virus outbreak as has been the case in China.”

Air quality will likely revert to its previous state once normal activity resumes.

I wonder, is that the story we wish to tell in this time?

In this story, where is the promise?

The promise in the story of Holy Week is that normal activity never resumes. Things are never the same again. Everything is permanently changed.  And, this story starts small. It takes time to for it to build, for people to experience for themselves the power and the promise of a God who loves all people and offers everyone forgiveness. A God who spreads love and grace throughout all of creation.

It is these stories of promise, told over and over throughout generations, that build us up into new beginnings. That promise us things will never be the same again. This is the opportunity; a story of a new way of being. Whether it is an involuntary or temporary side effect of an ongoing story beyond our authorship matters less than the results of divine insertion of reconciliation into a system of disconnected domination.

The external forces of cause aside, we are empowered to take hold of the narrative because we are inheritors of a plot line gifting us with the possibility of resurrection. We can change the story line that we are living in, regardless of the packaging it is being received in. We can unwrap and retell what is handed to us because of the promise Jesus offers us in the openness of resurrection gifted to us.

We must restore and re-purpose the mainline narrative that offers no promise because it will be the story we tell as a community of faith which determines the outcome of the experience we are having. The story will be the way in which we explain our experience, its cause, its purpose and its predictive outcome. It is the story which will live on in the midst of any physical death.

Last Sunday when I was out at The Land shoveling mulch, I was distracted from the solitude of my work by the meadowlarks who were exceptionally talkative. Their conversation was so loud that, while I was certain I was not the focus of the conversation, it was also hard to feel as though I was not included as a member of the community. I wished, for a moment, to enter into their conversation but I could not think of a noise worthy enough to join in on their dialogue. The sounds of the meadowlark were so beautiful, I was at a loss of the language I should speak.

I paid attention to my silence highlighted by the songs rising up around me.

Perhaps, the possibility of this story will be in the promise of a new conversation. One in which we listen to a narrator that speaks from the earth. A storyteller invites us to live the question, spoken by Joanne Macy when she asked; “Where does the self begin and where does it end?”  

“When you really pay attention,” she writes, “you see that you are part of the whole web of life
…that leads you to want to know more and to protect it…

when you pay attention to your experience, you realize that you’re not just a separate organism sitting here breathing.
You are not only breathing but you are being breathed.”

Today, I invite you into a story of Holy Week that we are living in real time. To pay attention to the pain, to walk deeper into that pain, and to trust in the inevitable promise of the possibility that things will never be normal again.