I made an interesting observation today about expectations.
I was part of a conversation this afternoon with one of the seminarians where I work. He’s in the process of doing his “student pastoring” at a church outside of town, and he was reporting that it had been a rather intense few weeks. Someone had recently outed him (as gay) at the church, and there was a lot of uncertainty about how people would react to knowing this about him at that particular church. It turns out things have (so far anyway) gone very well, and he even took his boyfriend with him to a church function last weekend.
While I was very encouraged to hear his story, the thing that surprised me is that I did not in any way let on to him that I am also gay. I stayed quite firmly in the closet throughout the conversation despite the fact that he was openly out of his as he shared his story.
I love stories. In a world that values bulleted lists of quick tips, 5 steps to whatever goal you want, and easily digestible summaries of clearly stated “truth,” I find my eyes glazing over, and I go searching for stories. Stories, for me, are where the richness lies.
Truth doesn’t live (for me) in easily absorbed sound bites. It’s always found hidden in the complexities, the messiness, the paradoxes, the mysteries inherent in people’s stories. And that’s why those places draw me again and again like a magnet.
One rich source I’ve found for stories, particularly those that explore faith in the context of real life that filled with doubts and struggles and questions, is a site called A Deeper Story. It’s now divided into three sections of stories: A Deeper Story, A Deeper Family, and A Deeper Church. I chosen four posts from this site that have really captured my attention in recent months to share them with you. If you are also a lover of faith stories, you just might find this site to be a treasure trove!
One of the (many) gifts I took away from my recent class in Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was a renewed appreciation for the role that story plays in a life of faith. The Old Testament begins with long sections of story-telling. These stories are re-told and re-interpreted throughout the rest of the Old Testament books and into the New Testament. In fact, we still engage with those stories today both in traditional religious settings and in literature.
While there are ways that my religious upbringing has left some deep scars, one of the things that it did give me was a strong knowledge of these stories. Some of the stories are comforting, many are disturbing in one way or another, but all reflect the messiness of real life as it was then and as it still is today.
I attended a First Friday event tonight (my first!) with a friend. We had the opportunity to view works by a wide range of artists working in many art forms, styles, and media. We would stop and discuss our impressions and reactions to pieces as we moved slowly through the galleries.
In many cases, our impressions were quite similar. As we would explore our reactions and try to suss out the details in the piece of art that provoked those reactions, we shared many understandings of the visual cues. For example, dark colors prompted more somber or heavier emotional reactions. Bright colors prompted more upbeat and intense emotions. Muted colors prompted a sense of mystery or peace or wistfulness, depending on the hues and the subject.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ~C.S. Lewis
I spent some time with a newer friend today and had the pleasure of discovering several things that we share in common, from interests, to authors we enjoy, to patterns of reacting, to writing styles. It reminded me of just how powerful it is to discover a point of commonality with another person, a discovery that becomes more powerful the more rare the point of commonality is.
These moments of connection remind us that we are not alone. They bring reassurance that all of our quirks fall within the natural variety that makes up the human race, and that we are not broken or defective for being as we are. They bring the pleasure of finding someone to share our interests, hobbies, and activities with who will value them as we do. These moments whisper the reassurance that we belong to those corners of our souls that fear that we are forever on the outside.
On the last day of my Introduction to Hebrew Bible/Old Testament class before the final exam, we had a class discussion about what it means to us to say that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Given the wide range of denominational and theological backgrounds that students bring to class, it was not surprising that our opinions differed on this topic.
It’s probably also not surprising that I was the outlier in urging caution about placing too much reverence in the Bible. It’s not that I don’t value the Bible—in fact, I do very much, and this course I just finished helped me to value it even more—it’s that I believe that it is a text that provides its greatest benefit to us when we are able to wrestle with it and question it. Much like the Zen Buddhist saying that cautions not mistaking the finger pointing at the moon for the moon, I believe that the Bible should point us toward a relationship with God and not become the object of our worship itself.
I’ve seen too many cases where the Bible (or one’s interpretation of it) has become such an object of worship in itself that it leads to the text being used a weapon against others or can lead to driving others away from Christianity altogether because of the misuse of the text. Today, I’ve collected a few links from people who express similar concerns with how we treat the Bible.
“Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.” ~Stephen Covey
I’ve been the recipient lately of an unusually (for me) large amount of positive feedback, and this has done wonders for my mood and my self-confidence over the last few months. However, this has also provided an opportunity for me to really observe how I react to feedback from other people, and I’ve discovered something very interesting.