We live in a culture that is talking more about the word “story” than ever.
Our church spent 31 weeks walking through the Bible as “The Story.”
We film and share testimonies tagged as someone’s “story.”
We are invested in infomercials, reality TV shows, and news programs because they tell (more or less with the reality TV) the “stories” of real people.
But why has story become such a drawing point for us?
First, I’d argue that story hasn’t become important or delicious to us as a recent development. Story - in the sense of real life happening to real people in real time - has always been a hallmark of living and vibrant cultures.
The earliest Old Testament texts began as oral gifts - stories told around bedouin campfires in the wilderness, passed from generation to generation (Deut. 6:4-7) before it was ever put with ink and papyrus. Story formed the identity of early Israelites, weaving their lives on the loom of God’s grace and light and drawing them though the wilderness of exodus and exile for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Story is not new. It has always been and always will be.
Second, story addresses the world in which we live - especially in the sense of dealing with the challenges of formation into Christlikeness. What happens as we grow in our formation is we move from the need for concrete answers to holding things in tension.
Jesus knew it - you cannot live under the principle of “(Father) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45, NIV) without being able to stand in the midst of two competing ideas.
There is tension there - how can these both be true - and any good story helps us stand in tension.
So we tell our story, and we see how we were showered both in our unrighteousness AND our righteousness. We see in our story where the precipitation in the lives of the unrighteous around us fed a crop of bitterness and emotional violence towards us.
Tension. We have to learn how to stand in it and find God in the midst. We have to learn to tell our story with both sides present - with all of the loose edges hanging out, without a hem, without the stitching we may believe others need from us.
Clean. Smelling of soap and sanitizer.
The problem is that the stories we see that are “clean” or “sanitized” are frankly boring.
Boring in the sense that they don’t pull us in. They aren’t realistic. We don’t see our own lives on the map of that squeaky, germ-free tale.
Instead, we see ourselves in the intelligence and belligerence of Paul.
We see ourselves in Peter’s doubt about how to treat those he was always taught to marginalize.
We see ourselves in Joseph’s early promises and hard-knocks circumstances coming together to form salvation, though imperfect and broken even at the end.
The stories of the Scriptures or the saints or of contemporary spiritual bards do several things but above all they point us toward a singularly helpful and poetic reality:
Our story matters because it is the story of Jesus working with us, in us, in spite of us and making sculptures out of our mud puddle daily directives.
What is your story? I don’t mean your testimony - the edited version you’d give the public, but what’s the published-after-you-die-including-the-dings-and-dents version? What’s your family of origin story?
What are the stumbles and scars and stab wounds that have come along the way? Can you own them and tell them as a narrative of hope - that regardless of what may have happened, the most critical thing is what God’s Kingdom through Jesus has brought to explosion and implosion through the wounds and wandering?