Rediscovering the importance of story


When I challenged my home congregation to read Luke in the month of February, little did I know that challenge would leave me reading the whole book in the first three days of the month. I saturated myself in Jesus’ words the last couple of days.

I needed it.

The last couple of weeks, for me, feel like waking to some nightmarish alternate reality. Each day brings news reports that violate my core values.

I’m an INFP on the Myers-Briggs. The salient point about my personality: I delight in seeing the world through other people’s perspectives, and I hate conflict. Right up to the point where my core values are tripped, and then I am a rampaging tiger with roaring feelings and little logic.

I can handle disagreement and questions. I do not react well to shame, control or folks who bully or ridicule others, especially those who are marginalized or are weaker than them. I lose my mind. Poof. Out comes the tiger from normally placid me.

I dodged writing because I couldn’t write without violating a core commitment. I refuse to shame or name call because I do not want to become what I oppose. I had scathing things I wanted to say, and I held back. I want to write out of love, not out of anxiety or a desire to control others or to fit in with the cool kids.

As a writer, I envy those who can rapid-fire respond to news with wit and wisdom.¬† I can’t. I need a week or two for the mental chaos to settle and for the rational words to rise to the surface. Otherwise, my writing is just a tirade of extreme feelings, and fascinating as those may be, I don’t trust that part of me when it comes to politics.

Instead, I retweet other people who can say things I wish I could. So, if you want to know my immediate thoughts about politics or who I follow for wisdom, follow me on Twitter (@ emcgrewking).

But, back to Jesus.

What did Jesus do?

Jesus went to everyone. He ate with the Pharisees. He dined with the tax collectors. He supped with the sinners and prostitutes. Jesus shared meals with a diverse swath of society.

Frankly, after reading Luke, I think Christians get their finger-pointing backwards. We often have our sternest words for those at the margins and the gentlest ones for those in power over us or with status to benefit us. We follow our self-interest instead of Jesus, and we try to conscript Jesus to support our misguided agendas. (One of the best ways to catch our missteps here is listening to people who don’t look like us talk about Jesus. )

The harshest words Jesus speaks are to the Pharisees and Sadducees — the religious people who supposedly knew all the “correct” things about God and supposedly had their righteous act together.

But all the “right” theology and perfect rule-following made their hearts hard instead of soft. They neglected love and compassion while they relished the power their religion offered them. Their rigorous efforts ultimately missed the mark of what God desired from them. Self-righteousness puffs up and lords it over others.

Jesus called out the nonsense ruthlessly. He didn’t mince words. Jesus had stern words for the powerful and compassionate ones for the marginalized.

Some didn’t like his message. Jesus called out their agendas and let them react how they would. In Luke, despite negative encounter after negative encounter with Pharisees, Jesus kept eating with them and kept challenging.

Meanwhile, in spite of the religious leaders’ disapproval, Jesus goes about his business of loving everyone else: the poor, the disenfranchised, and the tax collector. Jesus loves.

Jesus shows up. Instead of rejecting others, Jesus allows others to reject him. Their choice to listen or not. Jesus doesn’t lord it over others; he extends invitations. He speaks hard truths, but he does not control.

I needed a way to get to this place in my writing. I needed a way forward that didn’t involve bossing readers out of my anxiety and desire for control. Writing from that place helps no one, least of all me.

Jesus reminded me about the importance of story.

What will I do?

Stories matter. As I read social media comments the last few weeks, I relearned their significance. Stories give us lenses for viewing the world. Some distort. Some sharpen.

We tell ourselves stories to calm our anxieties and to organize the world. We tell stories so we can make structure out of chaos. We rope God into those stories asking God to endorse them and us.

Stories operate out of our gut. Sometimes we’re conscious of them. But, often we’re not. Still, consciously or not, stories drive us. Unless we stop and take notice of the stories we’re telling, we’re auto-piloting on a crash course. Stories can push us to fear. However, they also push us to love.

The question is: what stories am I telling? What stories are others telling? And even, how do I know when I’ve run up against a worldview story?

This week I’m posting a series of stories that influence my perspective on the world and politics. The hope is that my conscious storytelling helps others do the same. When we pull out our stories and examine them, we open ourselves to constructive dialogue. We learn our boundaries and core commitments, and we can do it from a centered place, instead of a defensive one.

So far, there are three separate posts coming: one on immigration and refugees, one on submission and control, and one on government, big business and the environment.

I hope you’ll come back for these stories, even if they are political and you’re just so ready to be done with these conversations. Even more, I hope you’ll find ways to share your stories with others (and even ask about theirs), and perhaps even to share here. It’ll be scary and vulnerable, but the most meaningful conversations often are.

I still hold fast to my commitment against shame and name-calling. I want this to be a place safe for questions and wrestling with our stories. Stories are welcome. Meanness and trolling are not. Disagreement is acceptable, but the goal is understanding instead of argumentative victory.

We will be figuring this out as we go, but I’m excited for the journey.

Questions or comments?

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