Loving the Whole
My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.
–Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets
I love this thought from Buechner. It speaks well to my understanding of preaching, but also of scripture itself. (warning: I’m about to tread on some thin ice… come along, it’ll be fun.) I don’t know that its helpful to imagine scripture as a unique story. “Unique and Authoritative?” Maybe not so much. The collection of these stories and Word (s) of God are unique in their use and function… but there is nothing unique to the stories themselves. It is not that God once spoke. God once acted in history. God once worked miracles. Its not that in all these onces we wrote them down and then God stopped leaving us to study the unchanging activity of God frozen in time in a world that once was.
God is Living God. God speaks. God acts. God works wonder.
And we experience all of this in the ever unfolding story of our common lives together. If we understand this I believe it helps us with three things right off the bat.
It reminds us to not deify the characters of scripture but to recognize that anything of certainty with which they act is probably born more of the nature of recollecting than it is a certainty that was possessed in the moment. Faith is a confidence in hope (not certainty of absolute truth) and in things UNSEEN (not tangible experience). And I believe we do the scriptural story injustice when we forget this is equally true of those folk walking that story. They did not KNOW they were talking to God, any more than we did. They had a confidence in the hope they were responding to the unseen presence of holy mystery. We do not other.
The second thing I believe this helps us with comes back to the Buechner quote. We rehearse the story of scripture because if we tell it anything like right it is also our story. And when we do not live steeped in such stories that make meaning in our lives in so many ways, than we live as an impoverished humanity (and yes this statement could apply to all manner of historic narratives).
When we read of Moses torn between two identities and having to go back and confront this for the sake of those who have no-one else to advocate for them? We are learning about our own struggles to be advocates of justice at the cost of our personal comfort. When we read about Peter’s enthusiastic willingness to answer and do it all for Jesus… and then watch him fall flat on his face (or sink in the water) we are experience our own tension between what we wish to do, and how we are actually prepared to live and serve. When hear of Mary collecting every tidbit of information about her child and treasuring and pondering upon it all… we experience our own need to be confirmed in our belief (and unbelief).
There are portions of the Bible we do not like. Dark stories. Hurtful stories. We find ourselves saying after this: This is the Word of Lord… but we hardly wish to say such a thing. We’d rather not believe it, read it, or do anything with it. But here is where I find my a third moment of grace from understanding the story of scripture as stories like mine: I realize that these parts of scripture are also deeply true, these parts we do not like, because there are deeply true parts of my own self that I do not like.
I can no more cut out parts of myself than I can cut out these abhorrent stories of God’s people and they way they have articulated God from their story. Here is where I practice what it means to love my enemy. I learn to love the hard and distasteful stories, so that I may learn to love my whole self – even the parts I wish to be rid of – so that I can learn to live with others whose choices and actions seem unlovable.
We are all wholly lovable.
Love is hard when we narrow down to a trait that is less than the whole, a belief stripped out of context, the worst of a person that we can focus on. So we learn to love the whole… in all its messy, inconsistent, uncertainty. And here we find God.
That is why for all the critical apparatus I bring to bear on scripture, that would make many believe I seek to remove all its authority, I fall more deeply in love with it daily, and through it more deeply in love with myself and others. If you want to over-simplify, I have traded in its authority for its authenticity… in these not so hallowed words I find a not so unique way of life that gives my life such purpose and meaning my world would be unbearably dark without it. Or, at the least, a lot more boring.
Love God (all of God) with all of you, and all of all of your neighbors too.