This Is My Story

“In biblical Hebrew, there is no word for ‘history.’ Instead of ‘history,’ the word ‘memory’ is used. The idea is that history is someone else’s story, but memory is your own.”
–Heidi Johnston

The Settles Connection at Hutchmoot 2015, Photo by Mark Geil.

The Settles Connection at Hutchmoot 2015, Photo by Mark Geil.

Story, story, story. The word echoed through my weekend, shaped by various tongues. Once or twice it might have come out as “narrative,” a slight variant on the form, but the same essence.

“We tell stories from the image we hold in our hearts,” Jonathan Rogers said as he spoke of honoring our place—our hometown or family. We tell stories to support the thesis we have of “home.” We love our hometowns and our families, he reminded us, not because they are great, but because they are ours. “Remembering this lends the story to universality. Every human place has mythic experience.”

“Baseball is such a multi-purpose narrative tool,” said Russ Ramsey.

“The best way to tell someone you love them is to listen to them,” Michael Card said.

“This is not forever,” Heidi Johnston said. “We are just living in a day of a story that spans all of time.” She challenged us to be so immersed in the Bible that what we write tells the story of Scripture. If we speak only from our imagination without being anchored in truth, she said, we are only giving empty hope.

“Stories name our hopes we’ve hidden away and didn’t know we had,” said Doug McKelvey. “A song or a painting or a story can play on the imagination of the reader or the listener or the viewer almost in the same way a pianist can play on the piano keys.” Telling your story is throwing out a line and hoping that it connects with someone, he said. You’re inviting that person in as a third part of the creative process when they grip the line you’ve thrown out.

“Story is an invitation into a house that becomes a cosmos,” said Walt Wangerin. “What makes the story present and grants us the opportunity to be in the story at this present time is the telling.”

He reminded us of Deuteronomy 5, when Moses tells the story of Sinai to those about to enter the land. The generation who were there at Sinai are all dead, but Moses spoke to the generation before him as if the story were their own. His words echoed Heidi Johnston’s from earlier in the day, “History is someone else’s story; memory is your own.”

“Beware the man who makes himself the hero of his own story,” said Russ Ramsey in his sermon on Sunday morning. He combined the warning with this, “May we try to be brave, believing that trying to be brave is being brave because the author of life controls the narrative, and we are in his hands.”

On Saturday night, as the Settles Connection sang “Blessed Assurance” they invited us to sing along.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.


This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

“This is my story…” My story.

My story is that of a bride adorned for her bridegroom.

My story is that of a people whose God chased after their wayward hearts like a lover.

My story is that of a hard-headed disciple who betrayed his best friend and his Lord, only to be restored over a coal fire on the beach.

My story is that of a servant, entrusted by his master with five talents and turning them into ten.

My story is that of a king who took what he lusted after and killed to keep his sin hidden.

My story is that of a man who took his son to the mountain to sacrifice him, only to learn that the God he served would never ask such a thing like the gods of his past did.

My story is the story of a group of people who came together to discover the strangers they’d met were already their friends.

My story is the tale of a people made in the image of God who once turned away from him, but found him a gracious God with mercies new each morning, who shows steadfast love thousands of those who love him and keep his commandments.

These stories are my own, so deeply pressed into my soul they’ve left a mark. That mark, when watered, will become the seed of new stories. And I can throw out those stories into the world like a line, awaiting a hand to catch them and tie them to the hand’s own stories. And the line will go out again and again, so that strand after strand after strand all lead back to the truest story of all: that of a God who loved his creation so much he lay down his own life to save it from its brokenness.

Post-Moot

We are post-Hutchmoot again, and I am certain I will have many things to say in the next few days, but I’ll begin with a few quotes:

“A song or a painting or a story can play on the imagination of the reader or the listener or the viewer almost in the same way a pianist can play on the piano keys.” -Doug McKelvey

“This is not forever, we are just living in a day of a story that spans all of time.” -Heidi Johnston

Hutchmoot 2015“What makes story present and grants us the opportunity to be in the story at this present time is the telling.” -Walter Wangerin, Jr.

“Beware of the man who makes himself the hero of his own story.” -Russ Ramsey

(and for a bit of fun, please imagine the following in a Northern Ireland accent)
“Have you ever been at a conference with so many references to Deuteronomy?!” -Heidi Johnston

Backdrop

RedeemerI’ve spent a significant portion of the past two days sitting in a sanctuary at a church in Nashville which I can only describe as “warm.” It is a building which seems to stretch its arms out in welcome. The older parts of it are made of wood that holds the patina of the years. In the sanctuary itself, a newer section, a deep crimson wall, inset with a large leaded glass window and an unadorned wooden cross has formed the backdrop for words and music that have shaped me in the past two years.

It’s the place where I first heard N. D. Wilson describe the Fall as the man failing to fight the dragon and save the woman, and the Second Adam as the one who rescued His bride by sacrificing Himself in her place.

It’s the place where I saw Eric Peters as a noisy Chewbacca and Jonathan Rogers as a properly electronic R2-D2 in a Shakespearean rendition of Star Wars.

It’s where Ron Block sang the words, “Let there be beauty for beauty is free.” Where Andrew Osenga shouted, “Space!” Where Pete Peterson has wept and Andrew Peterson has geeked out over Rich Mullins.

It’s a place I heard words of healing as Andy Gullahorn sang, “The story isn’t over yet.” And I’ve heard words of challenge from Father Thomas McKenzie. I’ve heard words of encouragement in art, faith, love, community, hope.

And in the past two days it has been the backdrop for moments like Son of Laughter singing “The Meal We Could Not Make” and Jenny and Tyler singing “Skyline Hill.” It has stood behind Rebecca Reynolds talking of the Blue Flower and Russ Ramsey holding up a Vermeer print and Andrew Peterson plugging in his phone to play Marc Cohn’sWalking in Memphis.”

It is a backdrop full of memory for me—and I’ve only visited on yearly occasions. For those who come weekly, it is the backdrop for the breaking of the bread, the drinking of the wine of the new covenant, the truth of the gospel taught, of prayers covering and lifting pain and sorrow to the ear of heaven’s throne.

Rebecca Reynolds said this morning, “Any old church is a familiar friend.” Arms open, they invite us toward the altar of worship.

The Musicians of Bremen

BremenArby’s is currently serving “meat stack” sandwiches and their employees have donned t-shirts with a pile of edible animals on the back as advertising.

I hope the designer of the t-shirt had the musicians of Bremen in mind when coming up with the idea. I like to believe we’re still cultured enough in our society to remember our folk stories.

I immediately thought of the tale when I saw the t-shirt this afternoon, and it actually took me a few moments to figure out just why the young man behind the counter had it on. It was only when I compared the silhouettes of the animals to my memories of the matchbox holder in my parent’s downstairs washroom that I realized the stack in front of me was not quite accurate. Bremen’s musicians, after all, were a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster. There was no pig, as prominently displayed on the Arby’s t-shirt.

But the shirt brought back warm memories of my mom and dad reading me the story as a child from our “Well-loved Tales” storybook copy of it.

Do you know the story? If not, here’s a translation of the Grimm Fairy Tale.

On Dust and Bravery

“When I was young, I fell in love with story.”

It was the first line that caught my attention. I knew that feeling – that falling in love with story. I’ve done that.

But then the words went on, and struck even deeper chords than my love of story: the tension of roots and wings, of settling and adventuring. It put words to the ideas I’ve walked around recently in conversations with friends about listening to the small voice that tells us there’s something else out there, but not yet hearing the voice that says, “Here, here is the place you should be.”

Sleeping At Last so often takes my soul’s deep groanings and puts words to them.

“The Projectionist”
Sleeping At Last

When I was young I fell in love with story,
With the eleventh hour, with the blaze of glory.
The theater lights dim and all goes quiet.
In the darkest of rooms, light shines the brightest.
When hands are tied and clocks are ticking,
An audience convinced: we’re leaning in,
Holding our breath again.
Just when we thought the game was over
The music lifts and our dying solider lives!
And we breathe a sigh of relief.
We’re leaving, we’re leaving our shadows behind us now.
We’re leaving, we’re leaving it all behind for now.
But even dust was made to settle
And if we’re made of dust, then what makes us any different?
I guess we give what we’ve been given:
A family tree so very good at giving up
When we’ve had enough.
Though truth is heavier than fiction,
Gravity lifts as the projectionist rolls tape.
And it makes us brave again
And it makes us brave again
And it makes us brave.
So we’re leaving, we’re leaving our shadows behind us now.
We’re leaving, we’re leaving it all behind for now.
And it makes us brave again And it makes us brave.
We’re leaving, we’re leaving ‘em all behind for now.

New Guest Post at Everyday Liturgy

I had another guest post go up today at Everyday Liturgy titled, “A Romance It Certainly Is.” Here’s a snippet:

We cannot avoid the reality of this world. We see its dark underbelly in everything from the news to human trafficking to the person who pushes past us in a crowd without apologizing. This world, and we people in it, are broken, cracked, and bloody.

But as believers, we have a second sight of sorts. We see this world as it once was and as it will be again.

Check out the rest over Everyday Liturgy!

When Characters Come Calling

I met a boy the other day. His name is Peter. He’s about 9 years old. He has a sister named Sam, and a mom and dad. He’s cautious, smart, quiet, wise. He reminds me a lot of my nephew. He loves science and he’s going to discover the great world of bugs this summer. He will learn that life is not forever what it always was. He will discover that change is difficult and unsteadying. And he will learn that there is magic in the world – in the minutiae of creation, in the wonder of imagination, in the love of family.

One of the people who will speak into Peter’s life this summer is a older man named Ben Palmer. I met Ben years ago when he was living a different story. He was in crisis then, and while that is behind him now, I know that much of what I learned about him during that time will be seen in his interactions with Peter this summer. He will be hard-nosed and he will be truthful. He will be deeply broken and utterly renewed. And he will speak words to Peter that “alert him to the power he was perhaps too afraid to hope was real.”

Perhaps it is strange to you that I seem to know so much about Peter’s future though I only just met him. Don’t worry. This prescience isn’t wrapped in hocus pocus.

I’ve had encounters like this before. I once met a young man named William, and before we finished our first meal I discovered he had a whole story to live before I was done with him. And suddenly the name William just wasn’t right – not if we were to be spending a good portion of the next few years together. So decided to call him Edmund and he looked much more comfortable with that name.

In Peter, in Ben Palmer, in Edmund, I have the unique opportunity to see the past, the present, and the future all together. I’m fairly certain I know where they’ll end up, but I’m not quite sure. You see, they all surprised me when they came calling at the corners of my imagination. They could shock me once again with a sudden departure.

It’s an imperfect prescience. They’re breathing and living within their own stories. I hope to paint the canvas for them as they take the journey they’re on. But I don’t yet know what every bump in the road looks like. They may trip and fall. They may meet friends and enemies who surprise me equally when they come knocking with their stories fully formed, reaching back and reaching forward.

I met a boy named Peter the other day. He trooped into my imagination whole-bodied, meditative, and staring at a blank spot on the fridge where there is no summer calendar while he ate his waffles smothered in real maple syrup.

I told you there was magic in this world.

Note: I wish to thank Sam Smith and Kristen Peterson, friends I met last year at Hutchmoot, for their contributions to Peter’s existence and Ben Palmer’s new story. Hope you don’t mind that he’s not called “Sam Peterson.” You never know when your words will spark someone’s imagination. See, I told you there was magic in this world.