You might have noticed that, for the last little while, most of my posts have been about story. Either the story-telling nature of the bible or re-telling bible stories or creating stories from the seed of a bible story. That’s because I’m on a sabbatical leave and stories are what I’m spending my time on.
In the United Church of Canada, ministers are eligible for a three month sabbatical every five years. That’s a time away from the regular day-to-day work of ministry to focus on two things which I think are intimately connected.
One is spiritual reflection and renewal. While there needs to be sabbath moments in everyday life, it’s good idea in any vocation to spend a longer, more concentrated time in renewal. Perhaps on a retreat or a pilgrimage, for example.
The other is to do work that is beneficial to the church or community for which there isn’t always - or ever - time. This might be a creative project like research, a study, writing or creating art.
So, while I’m grateful to the congregations I serve for taking over my work for three months, I’m taking the opportunity to work on story. Specifically, I’m looking at how we share what’s true and life-giving at the heart of the bible story and how we might tell or re-tell it for today’s world, especially for people who haven’t heard it before. To borrow a phrase from Marcus Borg, it’s like how we might tell the story again for the first time.
My particular emphasis is how we share those stories with children and with children of all ages. The lens through which I’m trying to create is Jesus’ encouragement that all should come to God as children. So, I’m creating stories to be shared in pictures and words, educational programming that’s story-based, and stories to be staged as skits or plays.
I think it’s important to understand the bible as stories, at the heart of which are essential truths that are life-giving and sustaining. I’m less interested in debating the historical authenticity or factual accuracy than I am understanding what we learn, appreciate and absorb into our lives. That, after all, is why Jesus and others teach with stories and why Jesus so frequently reminds us that it’s not about following the rules or behaving a certain way, but living out what’s in our hearts.
We live in story. Our lives, how they connect and intersect, is a narrative that we’re creating and living. How we relate that and interpret it is all story and we are always doing both those things, telling a tale and interpreting it’s meaning as we do. As much as we’d like to hang on to old Joe Friday’s saying from Dragnet, “just the facts” just isn’t possible. Our own context, our own experience, our own thoughts and perceptions are forever framing our story. And that may resonate with others when we share it.
More than one person has suggested that we’re the hero of our own story. That, too, might resonate with the idea of considering who we could be as a character in a bible story. That’s not just about searching for relevance in ancient stories, it’s about being able to see yourself in the story, now, as your life happens. When you can see yourself in the story, it takes on a deeper and more profound meaning.