Our Storied Lives

'Stories are everything.' I heard this seemingly wild declaration in a TV ad recently. After giving it some thought, I couldn't agree more. After clearing away all the noisy clutter, do we not live our lives following core stories we've heard from our family, subculture, education or religious tradition?

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To live without story is unbearable. We crave narrative. Now these stories may not always be fully conscious, or necessarily admirable. But in retrospect we will (sometimes sheepishly so) nod our head. Yes, I really am living out this or that story, usually about what it means to be successful or happy.

Often we are running, sometimes quite literally, after storied dreams to prove ourselves in front of an imaginary (yet unusually tough) audience. See, I can argue intelligently for an environmental cause; I can be beautiful, talented and funny to attract a mate; I can work hard to finish this degree or be accepted into this job. Most of the stories we end up living have an individualistic tone, and a narrow, competitive focus. We benefit from them, even thrive in them for a while, but what happens in a crunch? And how do these personal stories affect others? (I like to think my perfectionism is about living to a more 'noble' standard of excellence, but try telling that to my family and friends who know me best!)

What would it mean to tap into the larger, more life-giving stories found in Scripture? We used to think that if we believed the right things with the right amount of intensity we'd be okay. But Scripture is incredibly narrative-based; propositions just won't do anymore. Yet the question remains: can we find Scripture's stories in our own often mundane lives? In studying Scripture in Watershed the past few years we've learned that Scriptural characters are exceedingly human, and a lot more like ourselves than we ever dared to believe. David was a 'man after God's own heart' but he was also very flawed, even a beast! Jesus' disciples spread the news of the gospel far and wide, but has there ever been a more bumbling, 'not getting it' group of students anywhere?

What if we scratched away at our personal and group experiences today and saw Scriptural-like narratives coming alive? Stories (even little ones) about slavery moving towards freedom, barrenness retreating to reveal fruition, illness and despair yielding to healing and understanding. If our attention is diverted from personal dream-seeking to a different upside-down frequency, something opens up and more faith-engendering stories can be told. Scripture-like stories of child-like faith being exercised in the consumerist desert of modern living grab can hold of us. Stories of outsiders down the street knowing more about who Jesus really is than religious experts opens our hearts to new possibilities. What if growing our faith was not at all about 'trying harder' but allowing the Spirit to open our eyes so we could see what was happening in the middle of our busy, self-absorbed existences?

When our emotional attachments to some personalistic story trips us up, we can acknowledge, without shame, we've become the 'rich young ruler' in the Gospels turning away from Jesus in despair. Yet when we cry out to God and others in our difficulties, isn't it extraordinary how God often responds with signs of accompaniment and love, even joy? We are like, if not become, the desparate blind man who asked Jesus for sight and his eyes are opened. I think and hope it is true: When we are free enough to tell stories of God's faithfulness amidst our gnawing doubt, others are encouraged, including us - storytellers in a new key.

"And the blind man said to him, 'Rabbi, let me recover my sight.' And Jesus said to him, 'Go your way; your faith has made you well.' And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way" (Mark 10: 51-52).

"The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms." - Muriel Rukeyser, American poet

Adipiscing Eros

You are warmly invited to overhear the stories, both personal and universal, found in this 2012 edition of Watershed Online. If you have feedback, or have stories of your own to tell, we'd love to hear from you!

* In our Book section, here are two reviews from our recent Personal Formation and the Bible course inspired by Marcus Borg's excellent Reading the Bible Again for the First Time.

* In our Community Words section are these stimulating homilies on Scripture:

* In A Response to Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, Arthur Paul Patterson summarizes Lisa Miller's findings about society's search for the truth about the Great Unknown.

* In Justification - Where We Stand, Verda Heinrichs offers her evolving impressions on that loaded theological term - justification - after reading N.T. Wright's book on the topic.

* In Reviewing Of Gods and Men, Linda Tiessen Wiebe decodes how people deal with suffering based upon a moving French film about Algerian Trappist monks.

* In A Graced Trip, Lyle Penner recollects the blessings of visiting his dad, Norman, after he lost self-awareness due to delirium a year before his death.

* In What Was It Like? Bev Patterson muses about the backstory that led her to create a vibrant watercolour graphic for this web edition.

* New in our Life Expressed section are poems by Arthur Cohen (Watching the River at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue), Marilyn Heidebrecht (Apricot Jars), Erik Berg (On Science and Faith and Spirit Wind), and Arthur Paul Patterson (Birds of a Feather).

* In What can Separate Us from God? various Watershed writers attempt to paraphrase the essence of Paul's Letter to the Romans 8: 31 - 39.

* In Ikonography - What's In A Name? Arthur Paul Patterson explains the new name of Watershed's photography group.

* In A Tribute to a Father, David Berg reflects on the changes in his dad, H.R. Baerg, during the last leg of his earthly journey.

* In An Empty Bowl, Eldon Heinrichs explains the symbolism of his centerpiece displayed during Watershed's 'rich young ruler' Sunday service.

* In Prayer for Syria, Lyle Penner (with help from Stanley Hauerwas) prays for hope and open eyes amidst a seemingly hopeless civil war overseas.

* In I Thirst - A Modern Parable, Marilyn Heidebrecht narrates her desire for deeper roots in the story of God's people.

* In The Last Year at Watershed, Cal Wiebe outlines story elements in Watershed Community's year that was, 2011.

* In Confessions of a Playful Agnostic, Arthur Cohen responds to John Haught's theistic evolution vision put forward in God After Darwin.

* Illustrations by Kelsey Heinrichs.

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