Originally posted Aug. 11, 2012, at the altar ego. Republished with permission of the author.
My synod bishop tells a story of a Sunday morning, where a pastor talks to the family in the run-up to their baptism in worship. The pastor’s words in that conversation: “I’m going to pour some water, and then I’ll just say some words, then it’s your turn, and then we’re done.”
That’s what our churches, by and large, have become — places where some words are said, some movements are made, we stand up, sit down, and then we’re done.
Stories are our salvation.
Forget “just some words.” We need to be done with that. We need to tell our stories, instead — those powerful, compelling, unbelievable stories — and tell them again, and tell them to others, and have them tell in turn.
We know the power of our stories in this culture. I know the story I continue to live into every time I am approached by any dog bigger than a terrier: It’s the story of me being bitten by a Rottweiler when I was 9 years old. This story is truth, and it affects me deeply.
Our culture knows the story of redemptive violence that continues to be lived into through cinema, TV, and, sadly enough, our own faith communities. It’s the story that, as nice as “peace” and “love” are, we realistically can fight violence only with violence, and get rid of hate only with hate. This story is a lie, but it affects us no less deeply.
And our church knows the story of “just some words,” as our most powerful and life-changing stories of nothing less than life, death and resurrection are being transformed into sanctimonious religious tidbits that do little more than cover our challenging gospel with a soft, pious blanket — and, ya know, put it to bed.
We need to pay attention to the stories themselves, especially when it comes to our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ — so that we see, hear, taste, smell and remember — Jesus and his disciples in that last meal, where he broke bread, even with his enemy (Judas); Jesus tortured on the cross, in the words of Nadia Bolz-Weber, where he “did not even lift a finger to condemn the enemy, but instead said, ‘I would rather die than be in the sin-accounting business anymore”; Jesus talking the talk — “love your enemies, and pray for them” — and then walking the walk, responding to violence and hate only and always with love.
We have to do this — otherwise, the stories become “just some words,” and we end up with a story that’s not a story at all, but rather a dangerous social narrative: demanding that others know that Jesus died for them (usually described in a very scary, simplistic way), and they better accept it, or else be cast into everlasting hellfire.
Stories — real, hot-blooded stories — of Jesus are Christians’ only hope to live into a new narrative of new redemption and new life. These stories are not just any words. And it’s time we told them again.
Find a link to Jason Chesnut’s the altar ego at Lutheran Blogs.