I’m spending time of this week finalizing the sessions I will lead at this week-end’s Family Camp at Kawkawa Camp. I’ve spoken at this camp for several years, and really love the people who come there and the opportunity to sit by the lake and enjoy what God has created, both in the scenery around me and the people at camp. Every year I develop a “story” to share in 3 parts around the evening campfire. It’s a fun but challenging task for me. I like to take a character or situation from the Bible and imagine what might be going on around it, creating a story from whatever comes to mind. (Last year’s story audio is here.)
As is often the case, God uses my preparation for events like this in my own personal spiritual journey. This year it revolves around the idea of story. The older I get the more I realize the power and importance of stories. The stories we tell shape us. They help us to understand the world. We teach our children using stories. It’s their first exposure to understanding concepts like good and evil, love and sacrifice, loss and contentment. As we get older our stories get more and more complicated, but they still give us words to express and understand the world around us and our experiences of it. They help us come to terms with the complexities of the world and where we fit within it. We like to think that we are purely rational, that our conclusions are objective, but the stories that we live out and the stories that we hear shape us in powerful and deeply profound ways. Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind says “the human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.” The more I understand of people and the word around me the more I tend agree. The most powerful and life transforming realizations that I have had have come from stories, whether real or fictional. Just this past week I read once again Leaf by Niggle, a J.R.R Tolkien short story. While I am sure that Tolkien never thought he was writing his story to remind a small town pastor about why the work I do is important and meaningful, his story overwhelmed me with that truth. If you read that story I am almost positive you will not see what I saw in it (that’s the nature of a story), but what I saw touched me very deeply and encouraged me that what I do matters.
Most of the Bible is story (theologians and scholars call it “narrative”), some scholars estimate as much as 75%. These narratives of past events often seem to wind around factors we don’t seem to fully understand. I find it interesting that God chose to give us spiritual insight in the form of stories of people from the past and their encounters with (or struggles against) God. It’s not a spiritual textbook of metaphysical truths for us to adopt. It’s largely a story of people as they grappled with God and the world around them. Jesus continued that in the parables of the New Testament. My morning sessions at Family Camp will look at three of the parables (stories) that Jesus told. I believe he told parables as a way to illustrate the new reality of the Kingdom of God. Just as we teach our children through stories, He was using them to help people begin to grasp a new understanding of what the world around us was intended to be.
Deep beneath all of this is the truth that we all live and react according to come implicit story that we tell ourselves is true, even if it’s buried so deep in our subconscious we don’t actually realize when that is happening. We have a setting for the world around us. Some people are blessed to see the world as a basically happy place, where evil exists, but doesn’t overwhelm, and hope is always present to some degree. If this is their story it shapes their reactions to the events in their day to day lives. Others have, for whatever reason, an embedded story of the world as a dangerous place where everyone has an ulterior motive and you always have to be on your guard. This, in turn, shapes how they interpret every event that happens in their lives. Republicans generally have a story about democrats that usually taints what they hear when democrats speak. The same plays out when republicans talk to democrats, and the underlying story assumptions often drown out any good ideas that the other side might have.
We all have a story that we live by. My goal this week-end at camp is to tell the stories that Jesus told in hopes that the Spirit can use them to shape and modify the way we see the world. But the question for you is this: What stories are you living by? Or maybe it’s what are the conclusions that you jump to that may flow from the subconscious narratives that you have adopted? These are deep and sometimes troubling questions, and not for the faint of heart. But if our goal is truth, and to live our story out in the context of truth, we have to wade in there and be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. The story you are holding on to may be wrong, or at the very least misunderstood. Have the humility to ask God to show you where that is and to replace your faulty story with the one He has for you.