Hope

I’ve had the honor to speak at church a few times now.  Today, was the time I did the best job, I think, of getting out of the way so that what God wanted me to say could get said.  This is the first chunk of what I shared:

So, There were these little pigs.  They were ready to grow up and build homes of their own.

The first made a house of straw.  And along came the big bad wolf.  And he said “Little pig, little pig, let me in,”  “And the pigs said, ‘not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chin.’ And the wolf said, “Then, I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.”  And he took a great inhalation, and then he roared, and he knocked the pigs house down.

The end.

I hope you’ll notice there’s something missing from my take on that story.  If you’d never heard that story before, what would you think of it?  And more importantly, if you’ve never heard that story before, what would you infer happens after the house got knocked down?

If we don’t know the end of the story, I think we’d assume the Wolf had himself a BLT for lunch.  If we don’t know the end of the story, I think we’d consider that a pretty lousy story, and a rather tragic one.

If you did know that story, on the other hand, you’d probably tell me I got it all wrong.  I could say, “Well, did I get the beginning part wrong, where the pig moves away.”

And you’d probably say, “Well, no, you didn’t get that part wrong… You over simplified, because in my version, there are 3 pigs.  But mostly that’s right.  The pigs grew up and moved away.”

And I could say “What about the wolf?  Did I get that wrong?”

And you’d have to say, “No, there’s a wolf in my story, too.”

And I could say, “How about the dialogue.  I mean, it sounds kind of stupid, chinny-chin-chin”

You’d have to say, “No, they talk that stupid in mine…”

And we could keep going.  And you’d have to admit that there was no one specific part of my story that was wrong: it was merely that I took too narrow a view, I wasn’t willing to pull back far enough to share the end of the story that you would prefer.

I’d like to suggest that the person who determines what scene counts as the ending is the person who determines what kind of story it is.  The message of “Three Little Pigs” is “Life stinks” if you stop it where I did.

If you end “Romeo and Juliet” after their wedding, around act 2 or 3, it’s a cute little Romantic Comedy.   This seems to be the version that ___ listened to before she wrote the song.   If you stop “The Princess Bride” before they find out Wesley is only mostly dead, it’s a pretty tragic tale.  Or you could go the other direction.  If they added a scene onto….

If you take any story, and end it in a different place, you have shaped a very different story.  Notice how you don’t need to change the facts of the story itself.  You just need to change what counts as the last scene.

One of the reasons that this is so significant is that what we believe about the story we are in shapes the sort of characters we are in a huge way.  We wouldn’t put bumbling air heads in an action movie.  We wouldn’t put ponderous philosophers in a comedy.  Once we figure out what kind-of story we are in, we work hard at being the sort of characters who populate this story.

I was trying to work these questions out  around the time I came to Christ.   The church’s intern put together this battle of the bands at the opening of a skate park at the YMCA.  My wife and I and a few members of our small group ended up supporting them by selling hot dogs, nachos, waters, and stuff.

It was a hot summer day.  And there we were, representing the church.

This cute, sweaty, skate boarding kid came up to me.  And he asked me if he could have a water for free.  I pointed him to the water fountain inside.  And when I turned around, my wife was looking at me quizzically.

There was this sort-of awkward moment between myself and everybody else.

She’d been a Christian most of her life.  And to her, it went with out saying.  In a situation like that, you just give the kid a water.  For me, this was a pretty mind-altering idea.  I’ve been a left wing hippie sort my whole life.  Then and now, I’m not one to put much faith in Adam Smith’s invisible hands… and yet, I was living in a story with a certain sort of ending.   I was living in a story where the order of things, the way things were ones where you earned and deserved what you got.  Kiley, on the other hand, lived in a story where you deserve more than you got.   She had a belief that the old order would pass away. At the end of the story.  And she was living these changes out in the here and now.

One of the things that I think is worth noticing is that this issue wasn’t one of beliefs.  I was taking baby steps, but at that point, I had taken steps.  If you had asked me about heaven, I would have told you I believed in at that point.

But the heaven I believed in?  It wasn’t much of a heaven.  I began with what I could see, and assumed that the future would be pretty much like that..  It would have been very easy for me to get stuck where I was.  Many of the problems I have are because I do get stuck back there, some times.  I box in God.  I put these limits on the end of the story.  I believe that the end of the story I’m living in isn’t much better or different than the world is now.

I think it’s also clear that this dynamic is relevant for people who don’t call themselves Christians.   As you might have noticed, we’ve been experimenting with something new here at FC.  We’ve created a story about a fictious family, the Elliots, and we’re following them through a season of their life.

The Elliots have been given reason to wonder what sort-of story they are in.  The story began with a funeral, and it brought with it questions.  One way to express these questions: What sort of story are we in?

None of us can deny that death happens.  But when families experience the death of a loved one, the question on everyone’s mind is “What happens next?”  Is death the end of the story?  Or is there something after?

This question plays itself out in two different ways.  There is the question for the individual.  In the case of the Elliots, there is the survivors are wondering: Does Jonah still exist?  Is he living on?  Will he be reborn?

And today we saw Sam grappling with the other portion of the question.   He noticed this connection between himself and Pastor Rick.  Though Sam never new it, Rick was in some way responsible for Sam’s love of the music of Peter Murphy.

There’s a much more important side to this question.  Do we impact the world around us?  Does our influence spread beyond us?  Or does it die with us?

There are other questions going on, in the Elliots, about where the story ends.  We hope you’re a little bit curious about the interaction between Hillary Elliot and Pastor Rick.  You might have guessed they have some shared mistakes in their past.   It’s an incredibly important question: when we make mistakes, when we get hurt, is this the end of the story?  Or is there something that comes after this?

I’d like to spend our time together exploring this today.  What is our hope in?  What do we hope for?  What is the end of the story we’re living?  When we know the answer to that question—what kind of story are we living in—then there will be significant changes in the sort-of characters that we’re going to be.

In the book of Romans, Paul says this: in chapters 8 verses 18-25:

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “Hope”

  1. Is this the kind of thing you do at church?

    Analyzing your post (based on your talk at church): Storytelling takes up 1,422 words. The Word of God takes up 170 words. This statistic comes from MS Word, where I pasted your post minus the scripture quoted at the end. That yielded 1,422 words. Then I deleted that part and pasted in the scripture quote, minus the verse numbers, and got 170 words. The total number of words is 1592, of which roughly 89% were storytelling, and 11% were scripture. Interesting.

    I think that’s why I like the historic churches, those that use liturgy versus those that are free-fall in their approach to “church”. The liturgical churches are continuing something that was set up by the Jews and the original Christians with this end in view: Worship takes place while teaching is going on simultaneously. The liturgies are essentially scripture passages strung together in various patterns to illuminate this or that part of scripture, so the worshippers will understand them, imbibe them, and practice them.

    I’d have to do a statistical analysis of an Orthodox liturgy to see how much of it is the Word of God, and how much of it is anything else (we don’t have storytelling in our church, just Bible). My guess is that it would be something in the order of 90% scripture, and 10% filler. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

    The early Church decided what books constituted authentic scripture by what was read and sung in the services. I wonder what would be considered authentic scripture today by churches whose worship is free-fall. I have a feeling what people really believe in, and what they say they believe in, are not always the same thing.

    Just some thoughts that your recollected talk brought to my mind…

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  2. Hello my friend-
    This is only the first few minutes. Sorry if that was unclear. When I post the whole thing in one place, it gets so large that it’s quite an overwhelming file. As I post the latter portions of it, I’d be interested to hear/see the break down.

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  3. Your sermon, viewed online in realtime, was phenomenal! You inspired a lot of conversation, a lot of private writing, and a whole lot of personal development. It’s a gift to see you growing… well done, J, well done!

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    1. I keep forgetting about hitting “reply” I responded to your kind words below.
      But I misplaced your new blog url. Would you post a link here or email me with it again?

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  4. Hey, you! Thanks!
    We’d been wondering how you’re doing.
    I’m really thankful for your kind words. I told somebody that of the times I spoke before, this was the time I felt kind-of like I got out of God’s way and the things that got said were what He wanted to be said.

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