Tag Archives: storytelling

Interrupted by nonfiction books, 2018

Of the many books I read in 2018 — reading is my favorite thing — some of them were nonfiction, this year more than any other since I’ve been keeping track. It doesn’t mean they were published in 2018, just that I discovered them this year. And the list is in no particular order. Finally — I have Hilary Clinton’s book “What Happened?” But I haven’t been ready to read it. I keep eyeballing Michelle Obama’s book but I haven’t read that either. There are zillions of amazing and powerful nonfiction books that I haven’t read. My niche is a bit narrow really. Let’s find out what it is! 

On Living by Kerry Egan (2016)

This memoir is a story about Kerry’s work as a hospital chaplain, which turns out to be the work of living fully into life, into the hard and broken places, into the memories and joys, into the peace of possibility. And it is also Kerry’s story, about her physical suffering after the birth of her first child. Kerry is inspiring in how to be compassionate and empathetic and real and honest. Most of all this is a testament to the power of listening. Those who are dying (and who among us is not dying, I ask) often want to forgive, to be forgiven, to share their love. We want to tell our stories. We want to be invited in and play a part in other people’s stories. Healing can be this simple — and this profoundly hard.

Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I loved) by Kate Bowler (2018)

Funny and open and full of deep sorrow, Kate is dying. She has stage 4 colon cancer and this came right in the middle of profound joy: her job as a professor of divinity at Duke, her loving husband, her little newborn son. Kate is so honest about how “the answers” don’t work so well when you are the one suffering. Living and dying and suffering are messy and hard and unfair and there’s no getting around that. Her particular field of research was on “the prosperity gospel” which is a very American take on Christianity that says something along the lines of if life’s blessings are showering down on you, then you are in right relationship with God. And you have the power to get everything you want just by being in right relationship with God. Not so hard to understand wanting — desperately — to have control over the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  And perhaps it is more true, more helpful, to counter that with something like no matter what you go through, God is there with you. Perhaps, as Kate would might say, there really are no answers. Life is beautiful. Life is hard. 

Pastrix by Nadia Boltz-Weber (2013)

Boltz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor who is “different” — tattoos, a recovering alcoholic, “loud-mouthed” woman who can create community, create a church, for all sinners and saints in Denver. She is funny and utterly sincere in her faith, and in her writing she embraces mystery. There’s no pat answers here, but so much joy and acceptance. And like the books above, the writing is wonderful. You just find yourself turning the pages desperate to find out what happens next.  Her 2015 book “Accidental Saints” is just as good. 

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower  by Brittney Cooper (2018)

Brilliant. In Dr. Cooper’s words “I am fat, Black, and Southern. But this is not a sassy Black girl’s tale.” Dr. Cooper owns her anger and tells the truth — “America needs a homegirl intervention in the worst way,” she writes. A professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, as well as writer, teacher and public speaker, Dr. Cooper is articulate, truthful, poignant, searingly honest and open. How faith shaped her and is shaping her Black feminism was deeply inspiring, although the book covers many topics. She has a Ted talk, for heaven’s sake. Go read this book already. Now in full disclosure, this is not a comfortable read. There is serious writing here, and there is serious work to be done about racism and I have another lens to see the world, and (I desperately hope) a more honest sense of my own deep and profound failings.

Educated by Tara Westover (2018)

Imagine growing up in an end-of-world survivalist fringe cult in deep isolation in Idaho? Tara was home-schooled in the sense that she learned to read and then was put to work in the various family businesses. To be completely honest there are parts of this memoir, about the abuse by her father and one of her brothers, that I could hardly bear to read and I would skim forward. For all her right to be deeply — eloquently — anger she is so much more forgiving and understanding than I could ever be. With nearly nothing, she was able to get into college and discover stuff that she had never heard of before, for example “the holocaust”. Tara’s quest to be educated took her ultimately to Harvard and Cambridge. But this is not a anyone-can-do-anything book. It is a memoir that shows first of all, we are all “educated” almost accidentally by how we are raised, what we see and read and hear and do. Every parent, every teacher, every auntie plays a profound role. And second, it shows that while a transformation like Tara’s is possible, it is extremely unlikely and the price can be high. This makes The Glass Castle look like a happy book, which just makes me want to weep. Tara now has a Ph.D. in history and I rather suspect when you grow up simply not knowing any history and what history you do know turns out to be a lie or at best incomplete, you wonder about questions like “what is history? who gets to tell it? what is truth?” 

The 10th Island: Finding Joy, Beauty, and Unexpected Love in the Azores by Diana Marcum (2018)

I had never even heard of the Azores! A delightful read with love at the end. Not a history book, a book of her exploration of a culture and a place that became the place of her heart. Enjoy!

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (2018)

A wonderful imaginative bible study, I can hardly express how not dry and dull this book is. Evans says “The stories we tell with our lives, then, aren’t meaningless absurdities, tragic in their brevity, but rather subplots of a grander narrative, every moment charged with significance, as we contribute our own riffs, soliloquies, and plot twists to the larger epic, the Holy Spirit coaxing us along with an ever-ebullient, And then?” How can we relate or see ourselves in scripture? How can we fully feel into the stories of the characters? This is the book I would have written, only Held writes better than me and does research. And I bow to her imagination. 

transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke (2018)

Beautiful, wonderful book — a clear guide for those of us completely at a loss on how to be welcoming to transgender Christians. There are the basics about words and why and when to use them and to not feel like a fool if you make an honest mistake; there is some history and some biology. But at the richest possible level there is a deep rich biblical study. Reading about Genesis 1 in a non-binary way was eye-opening. Reading about Acts 8 and the hope it brings to those who are also outside the norms, and how inclusive God’s message is and how inclusive baptism is was revelatory. Reading about stories — it’s always stories — from transgender Christians themselves and their faith in God’s love — was a powerful witness. This is not God-loves-you despite or because, you see, but God loves You. And transforming could work the other way — we in church together are enriched and blessed when all voices are brought to the table. How abundant is God’s love? More than we can possibly envision.

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Pentecost and beginnings, Acts 2:1-13

One of the tough things about this section of scripture is getting the simple physical geography of it all to be clear — because it just isn’t clear. They didn’t re-tell this and then write it down with the thought that anyone who heard or read it later — us in fact — just wouldn’t understand the basics of what was going on. They must have assumed that we would know about why “they were all together in one place” again for the day of Pentecost and understand that the “house where they were sitting” was, in fact, a house. We would know what it looked like. Think about “Bob met Caroline at the Palm restaurant.” We would know (even if you don’t know the Palm restaurant) that the name signifies a ritzy place or a special place because, after all, they didn’t meet at Applebee’s or Denny’s, you see. And we would understand that maybe they didn’t yet have a relationship of any sort if they were meeting there instead of arriving together. Or maybe they had a vendor-client type of relationship to meet there. Just one tiny made up sentence and we have a little story that subsequent sentences would flesh out and cue our thoughts. So we just do not have the information in our heads and hearts to fully understand Acts 2:1-13 instantly the way that an early listener would have. Or … that “practical” information might not be as important as it feels to me. So what exactly do we know?

 

Here’s what we know: It was the day of Pentecost. They were all together in one place (the footnote says it was “the full 120 people from Acts 1:15” but maybe it was just the newly reformed 12 with Matthias now taking the spot vacant by Judas). A big house indeed for 120 or they were on a patio or a rooftop? They were sitting with the sound started. Other people who were not a part of them (but were devout Jews even if they were strangers) showed up. Had Peter and the gang jumped up and rushed outside? We don’t know. In Acts 2:14 it says that “…Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed” the crowd. So that’s the little scene in terms of human physical details that we have to visualize.

Oh, since Pentecost is 50 days from Passover, we could envision that is was warmer weather than at Passover. And I have just turned to Wikipedia, and discovered that the Jewish Pentecost or Shavuot marks the wheat harvest and commemorates the anniversary of the day when God gave the Torah to the nation of Israel. Passover is freedom from slavery; Pentecost is the gift of becoming a nation, of having the Torah. (I would say freedom from fear — now we know what to do, how to act, who we are.)  The Holy Spirit arrived and gave the gift of being understood in all languages; of being able to share the story of Jesus — God’s deeds of power — on the day celebrating the giving of the Torah! Well! That is the sort of thing that just thrills me.  And I finally — finally! — get why it is called the Birthday of the church. Since the gift of the Torah formed the Israelites into a nation; thus this gift from God is the starting point for the church (maybe?).

Of course I barely know anything. But it feels nice to have the basics shipshape, so that we can go on and think about the more important mystical stuff like tongues of fire.

FTGOG

Interrupted by Wakanda

I think it is amazing that a “superhero movie” — Marvel’s Black Panther — has so much to say to real life and real hearts in a number of ways. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer wrote a wonderful essay highlighting and limning together text and subtext. Moreover, the sets, costumes, acting, music, and more all combined together to provide more than a couple hours of fun; it was more intense.  Yet me and my quirky brain are wondering about stuff that wasn’t in the scope of the narrative. Now I am delving into “movie midrash”, the way I do scripture, wondering what is off the page, what is happening just out of sight, or just deeper, or next. Thus, if I understand Wakanda, they have always been hidden and safe from the outside world. So presumably this included being “safe” from the good news of Jesus Christ.

What gospel might travel now to Wakanda? Would a cacophony of missionaries — protestant, Catholic, pentecostal, evangelical, etc. — head straight on over? What might they say? What might the Wakandan’s hear? Can this be separated from colonialism or be different from exploitation?  Or, since at least Shuri seems to know about the outside world’s “stuff”, perhaps Wakandans already have heard the message of Christ and created their own church and will be sending that into the world, and redeeming our flagging faith? I can imagine so many things.

The whole idea that is rather fundamental to Christianity is that God so loved the world, he sent his son to save it, not to condemn it. To heal the whole world by opening God’s love and grace and covenant to everybody and not just a select few. Yes?  And our Savior did that by dying. On a Cross. Suffering. And then he comes back to life after being really most sincerely dead. Christianity, at some basic fundamental level, wins by losing. Saves by giving it all away. Converts by loving each other.  Most people in Jesus’s day and the days of the early church saw this whole mess as “foolishness”. Count me a fool for Christ, said Paul.

Wakanda might see it just as foolishness too. After all their government doesn’t have elections but fights.  Their king is then imbued with the spirit of their god, the Black Panther. (Did I misunderstand? I really am new to this story. But otherwise where else does the Black Panther’s powers come from?) How would a people who literally believe that their king is divine, and have clear and physical proof of that, feel about the message of a Savior who died and rose again?

Perhaps rather like the Romans. They believed (I am told) that Caesar was a God/divine — or at least paid lip service to this. We’ve been here before, eh?

By the end of the movie Wakanda has agreed to be their brother’s keeper and is taking actions to help the world. They are very afraid — and Lord knows they have every right to be afraid  — will their country be a target? Will their country lose its freedom and independence? Will being their brother’s keeper end up costing them too much? Everything?

Here’s my hope, my prayer for Wakanda — may Christ’s love strengthen your will to help mend the deeply broken places of the world, in ways no superhero can, in ways that only human hands and human hearts can do. May your science and tech and beautiful uniqueness combine with grace and mercy and love to enlighten the world.

The stories we tell have power.

Mountains in Matt 28:16-20

So as a storyteller, this passage sort of “gelled” when I realized it was on a mountain — not in the temple, or a locked room, or around a table — it was on a mountain. And Jesus is saying to “Go, therefore, to all nations” — from a mountain you can see (at least on a clear day) a long way. You have a feeling of seeing the whole world and far more, anyway, than your normal daily paths. I got a sort of picture in my mind of Jesus sweeping his arms out to the whole world. Or maybe even he pointed to Phillip and pointed in the direction of India and so on.

And then this verse — “And Jesus came and said to them…” Where did he come from? Wasn’t he there on the mountaintop? What’s going on?

“When they saw him, they worshiped him….

And Jesus came and said….”

I visualize that Jesus was floating in the air, descending down to the mountaintop. All could see him. And while some doubted — maybe something is wrong with my eyes — they all worshiped him. If we saw someone floating down to a mountaintop, clearly worship is a fine reaction!

So in giving the Tell, I tried looked up at “When they saw him…” and I swept my arms out and a little down, at “Go, therefore” to all nations…”

Just a tiny bit of movement to expand the story. I think it did anyway!

Plus there’s more.

I think.

What mountain near Galilee would this be? Perhaps the mountain where the sermon on the Mount took place?

Or perhaps being on a mountain is to free the disciples from temple-worship — God is everywhere?

Moses went up to a Mountain and came back down with the Ten Commandments. Mountains are important imagery in Matthew.

So — may we have a chance to get to a high place and breath in the view and feel the air. And worship God!

 

FTGOG

The story of Jesus and the blind man

In reading aloud John 9:1-41, which I don’t know if I can learn by heart, I’m struck by the man who was formerly blind. I’m struck with how impatient he gets, how annoyed he is. The response to the miracle of his being able to see isn’t to rejoice — which should be the response, don’t you think? He was blind and now can see. It sort of echoes “the sheep/coin/son was lost and now is found”, doesn’t it? No, instead the response is endless repetitive questions from everyone, and scarily the Pharisees call people to give testimony. (Is this like some sort of trial? I shall have to learn.) The man who was formerly blind has to endure all this, but when he is ultimately tossed out of the community Jesus finds him. And he worships him.

And as a storyteller that is the first of my problems — all the “he/hims”!

Take a look at this snip:

“Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” “

The Pharisees are not saying that the formerly blind man is not from God, but that the man (Jesus) who performed the restorative actions is not from God. But then, on the other hand, how could he not be from God, others say? It is a miracle. But it is a mess of pronouns!

So how do I inflect my voice? Or use my hands? Or turn perhaps — how will listeners not get confused?

And so I start! FTGOG

A look ahead

This is not a political blog. But we are living in political times. Perhaps every person of a certain age, through out the course of history, has felt that things have reached a tipping point to disaster and this is just my turn. Perhaps. Looking at environmental issues, human rights issues, mass incarceration, the continuing war, the horror of having a president who could rashly use nuclear weapons — and this is only really the tip of the iceberg — it seems like “now” is really heading to a disaster. I truly do believe in prayer. I truly do believe that anyone could change, redeem, reform. I truly am trying to stay hopeful without normalizing the situation, despite bursts of truly amazing anger and grief. So how do I act?

Among other actions, for me it means, most of all, you guessed it — study the bible. Not like some sort of spooky mystical answer machine. Not like even like what are the perfect, proper, rules. More as a storybook — a story of God and humankind’s continuing relationship. A story of love, in the midst of (or in spite of) at times terrible sin. So.

I’m all signed up for the 2017 Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, a wonderful group of people, with amazing preaching/keynote speakers, beautiful worship, wonderful workshops about how to tell a story or about other aspects of a specific story or performance. Check it out!

This year’s “theme stories” are

Genesis 18:1-15 (The Promise to Abraham and Sarah);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805823

Luke 2:25-38 (Simeon and Anna);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

Luke 2:41-52 (The Boy Jesus in the Temple).

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805927

At first glance my thoughts are “not those stories”. What will I learn from those stories? How will this help anything? And then I laugh, because of course there is going to be learning and grace. There’s no knowing. “Now” will inevitably color how we see the world and thus read scripture. And vice versa — diving into and dwelling with and breathing in scripture will inevitably color how we see the world.

I’m going to try to spend a little time with all three stories over the next few months. Thanks for joining me on this adventure in stories.

FTGOG

 

 

The “holy spirit” in Matthew 1:18-25

“Holy Spirit” is used first in verse 18 and then again in verse 20. And I want to contend that if you aren’t paying attention — by which I mean reading it out loud and trying to bring the words to life — then you are going to be puzzled.

I say this because I was puzzled. ha!

The Angel of the Lord appears to tell Joseph that everything’s okay because the baby has been conceived by the holy spirit. But verse 18 says that too — doesn’t he know this already? Didn’t Mary claim that? Isn’t everyone starting to talk about it?

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph but before they lived together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.”

“…But … an angel of the Lord appeared to him …. and said, “…for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

To make sense, the first Holy Spirit must said with scorn. What a little lying liar this loose girl Mary is, to make such a claim when caught in “trouble”! Did ya hear about Mary?

The second “Holy Spirit” — especially being spoken by an Angel — needs to be said with the full height and depth and breath of amazement and wonder and glory and honor and love and hope that a real act of the Holy Spirit would create. An Angel spoke to Joseph. And Angel confirmed Mary’s claim that her child was from the Holy Spirit — that God is the father of her child. WHEW. This is big. This is astonishing.

So the tone difference, the voice, the body — all needs to come into play in two different ways. The first one is easy. The second one is harder. I’ve been experimenting with holding my hands straight up, tilting my head back — but that’s a little theatrical for me.

Often to invoke the Holy Spirit in a storytelling what I have been doing is blowing a breath (or a wind) out of my mouth, “spreading” it with one of my hand. What I want people to remember, however, is God’s creation of the world, way back there in Genesis: “…a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” A breath/a wind from God started everything off. And then later in Genesis, God breaths into Adam to start us up: “…and [God] breathed into his [Adam’s] nostrils the breathe of life.” I seem to visualize the Holy Spirit part of God as a wind, a breathe, perhaps a song. I love it when a text in one place echoes back to another and they seem to fit together somehow.

So I will try to say the second Holy Spirit as solemnly as possible as well as with delight and joy and then I will pause to breathe, and to let the holy be breathed in.

To close with a bit of a ramble: Breath, wind, holy spirit, miracles, creation — I remember holding my newborn all those years ago and feeling the most intense love, more intense than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t know I had that much love in me. And so how much more then, does God love?holyspirtlightwind

 

Matthew 1:18-25

All right, I’m in a slump, in a sadness, can I say it — I am just a bit out of sorts with the Bible. I love it and love to study it and learn it by heart, but right at the moment it seems — flat? like soda without the bubbles? Or dull? like a movie I’ve watched too often? And with all those words and cut scenes and scholarly nuances that likely I’ll miss, it’s well … just too hard. Maybe there’s a bit of pressure to always find another layer to the onion? Or a bit of complacency as if “I’ve got this” and it’s all simple now. As if, right?

How can something be too hard and too simple? It’s not the bible, it’s me, right? I need to lean in and dig down deep and be faithful because inspiration comes from perspiration not from feeling good.

Right?

Though would it hurt anything if it felt, well, more fun?

As the days grow shorter and the trees start to turn colors and a tiny hint of fall at long last is in the air (has there ever been such a long summer?), clearly my energy is low. And with world/national events as they are trending, well…. Spirits and energy are low, or rather, my spirit anyway.

Yet there is also a hint of Christmas in the air — or at least the stores. And I love it! I love seeing the boxes of tinsel and glitter and trees and everything that we love and that gives us hope. In fact, I was looking at the pre-lit artificial trees for sale with color lights and fancy controls when a gentleman next to me sighed and said, can you believe this is out already? And I said with a big grin, oh I love it, how much fun is Christmas? And his whole face changed, he matched my grin, he found a spark of joy to put in his eyes too. It was a small tiny connection with a perfect stranger as we focused on the joy and not the work or the clean up or the despair of finding presents.

So perhaps this is the season to learn a new Christmas story. I have Luke’s down well. And it is hard to turn from Luke’s story. But let’s take a look at Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:18-25.

The first thing that strikes me is that this is actually a harsh story. This is not a happy story, to start anyway. A young pregnant unwed girl in that time and place was in actual danger. As sadly some are even in our time. How shall society both keep order and help the vulnerable? This is a story of a good man in a broken world who finds …..

a dream

a hope

an angel

a son

a commandment by God

a fulfilling of prophecy

a wife

More?

That’s a lot for a man struggling with a big problem to take in. God turned life around and upside down, for Matthew. [eta to say I meant for Joseph. but of course He turned Matthew’s life around as well eh?]  And for us.

 

FTGOG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interrupted by Summer

I try to be very regular with my blog; and in a couple of weeks I’ll be back to it. This summer has been very busy and strange. I thought I would make a list.

  • My son will be off to start college in a few days — a transition for the whole family indeed.
  • We all just joined most of my family of origin for a vacation by the ocean coast — it was cool and beautiful. And everyone got along. It was really a welcome time of renewal for family bonds that were a bit frayed.
  • I’ve been reading many things, but would mention the amazing “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. Oh sweet Jesus this is good and this is healing. I’m not nearly half-way yet, so it is possible she gets theological. But just in case, let me note that it doesn’t take a whole lot to see that breaking the “honor/shame” thing is perhaps one of Jesus’ key mission tasks, yes? There is a lot more going on here than “self-help”.
  • And on TV, Stranger Things was just a heart-stirring delight of anguish and action and wit.
  • Another wonderful book was by Shondra Rhimes: The Year of Yes. Yes instead of fear, yes instead of easy, yes instead of safe: this is really inspiring by an inspiring woman. And a quick, fun, read.
  • And the Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers met again in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and again an amazing time was had. There was a workshop about Matthew 5-6 and specifically the Lord’s Prayer that opened it up as if something we have all said and heard a zillions times could be fresh and new. It was truly moving. The keynote speaker unpacked tremendous things about the first testament, specifically the “well” stories of Jacob and Moses. She was a really excellent speaker although less of it seems to have “stuck” in my brain. I was disappointed when she didn’t tie it into Jesus meeting a women at the well in John but instead discussed the strands in the Bible as a whole of a “voice” called “Priest”, a voice called “Wisdom”, a voice called “Apocalyptic” (what I would think of as a Prophetic voice). The Priest voice provides a solid ground (“As it was in the beginning, is now, and always shall be.”). The “Wisdom” voice can acknowledge that things now can be quite awful and unfair. The “Apocalyptic” voice can provide hope. Yet I was left with a feeling that she doesn’t trust the hope from this voice, and I certainly understand how hope can be trap or a sham or lead to not planning for the future. But between you and me, I need that hope and my life is wonderful so I can only imagine how someone with truly terrible sorrows needs the hope. Our speaker didn’t mean these voices to be in opposition or conflict, but they do mean that at times the Bible contradicts itself. Being able to tease out who is speaking/writing can help resolve that.  And there was plain old fun at the Gathering, and so much laughter. I can’t think of the Song of Songs now without laughing. I was determined to make friends — this is the safest place in the world to make friends — and I think I did.  Next year, join me! It is going to be amazing.
  • Finally — my back is better! My pain sometimes has vanished completely and I can move and bend and dance. This is very precious and has led me to not sit down at my computer, ha. For me, besides being faithful to some boring exercises as near to everyday as possible, the healing was found in an Applied Kinesiology type of Chiropractor — I’m aware that for some people this is just snake oil but honestly it works for me and I’m so happy.

 

 

 

 

Interrupted by musing

Why is storytelling important?

Here are three quotes from a webinar this week about storytelling and nonprofits from Susy Schultz of the Public Narrative:

  1. Stories show they don’t tell.
  2. “We tell our stories to become whole. We tell stories to live, to connect with one another and to build community.” Edwidge Danticat
  3. But most important: stories can move people to action.

This just again underlines that the Bible is so much more than “a book of rules”. It is poetry, myth, laws, prose, letters, “history”, and history, biography, adventure, love story, war stories, adventure, talking donkeys, so much… It is stories all the way down, and like an onion, they unfold and unfold again….