Building a New Story

This might be a strange way to start off the part of service titled: “Our Stories,” but it is an honest way.

I have attended this church for four years, and served on its session for the better part of the past three. And I am pretty tired of My Story. At least, I am tired of one theme in my story. If you’ve come to this church more than a few times you have probably heard me tell my story in some form. Even if you haven’t, it is familiar to many of you, because we share it. It’s the story of naïve faith and it’s loss, of doubt and agnosticism and a grieving for something you can’t precisely define, culminating in a return to a practicing belief that is road-worn and precious for it. Hours and days and months and years of analysis have gone into this part of My Story. I’ve picked at it and worked the text so thoroughly, it is no longer my Story, but my dissertation.  I guess I’ve still been hoping to discover a key that would make every single thing about this faith and my journey in it make sense. As much as I talk about sitting comfortably in the face of ambiguity and paradox, in learning the rhythm to the dance of doubt and faith, I still like a coherent narrative, ya know?

I mean, today’s story. The Passover. This story is one of those that I learned as an infant. Not as a child. As a baby. In the church of my raising, tiny babies are plopped into these special tables with infant seats cut into them, and Bible stories are cooed at them in soothing, sing-song voices during Sunday School. The Passover is one of those stories. And the Passover is drenched in fury and fear, the ripping and shredding of a Revolution, the night God supposedly brought a kingdom to its knees through mass slaughter and grief, and birthed the runaway nation that eventually led to Jesus. To us.

So stories like this- Old Testament angry God stories- are all woven into our little baby brains until they become the fabric of a faith. Of course they are significantly edited, but the bones of the story are there. And for me, those bones rattled louder and louder as I got older until eventually, angry and ashamed and confused, I put the whole skeleton of them away in the closet. The narrative didn’t hold, and that is where my narrative, the doubt and prodigal daughter story familiar to many of you who know me or who walked it yourself, started to take shape.

But it didn’t end there. And that’s why I’m bored with my story. It needs new layers, new themes, a fresh edit. Because I did come back. And I do sit with that ambiguity, that incoherent narrative.

And how I can do that, is the stuff of this new layer to my story. The chapter in my faith that’s got all my attention these days is no longer an angry and confused and righteously isolated one. In fact, it’s mostly about y’all. It’s about the power of community and ritual. It’s doing the same thing, at the same time, and focusing my energies in the same place as others who certainly have not figured it all out- but who are trying really, really hard. It’s forgiving you when you do me wrong or when we don’t see things the same way and it’s in basking in your forgiveness when you do the same for me. Drawing from your strength when mine is zapped. Crying with you and laughing with you and arguing with you and learning with you. Chanting the Lord’s Prayer with you every Sunday. Feeding the 7th Street kids, or cooking and sharing food that we grew together, sitting down to eat and inviting others into this magical thing.

And now, when I look back at this story- The Passover, the God I don’t recognize, the things that made me so angry- something in there does make sense, and more so because of you. On the night of the first Passover, the Israelites- the anxious, powerless, confused and oppressed Israelites- were given incredibly specific instructions by God. Instructions about what to wear, and what to do, and in what order to do it, and then they were instructed to do it year after year, on the same day, to commemorate and remember and join together in community to honor it. On that terrifying night, they were gifted with ritual and community. I get that.

Just as I get that it is important from time to time for others to hear my story of anger and hurt and isolation. Our story of that. It might feel old to me now, not as urgent as it once was. Kinda boring. But it is important, because there are those out there like us who need to hear it, to know they are not alone and to know they are welcome here into our rituals, and safe. And then we, our community, well, we help turn the page, don’t we?

–N

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