Holy Week: The Greatest Story ever told

christsfaceBy Matt Sapp

There’s great power in being able to tell a great story. For the last few weeks I’ve been listening to professional storyteller Donald Davis with some of my ministry friends.  You should watch him. He’s great.

He’s helped me think about the nature of story, specifically the idea that story is much more than objective narrative; it’s more than just the facts.

Story, Davis argues, is more than simply telling what happened.  Story is interpretive.  It’s the way we choose to frame what happened. so story becomes the way we choose to remember what happened.  If past is prologue, then story becomes the way we choose to introduce our futures.

The greatest story we will ever tell is our own, and there’s great power in how we choose to tell our stories. We tell our stories to let people know who we are, so each of our stories ends with an often unspoken, “…and that’s how I got to be who I am today.”

Within each of our stories is the source material for a first-class tragedy, a hope-filled comedy, or an inspiring, wonder-filled fairy tale.

So the question is, “What kind of stories are we telling about ourselves?” How are we choosing to frame the narratives of our pasts? Do we tell our life stories so that we get to happy endings?  Are we telling a tragic story of woe? Or are we whimsical enough to tell a story that’s so full of fantastical details and child-like wonder that it must be too good to be true?

Each of our lives provides material to tell all three with candor. The choice of which story we tell is ours., and the story we choose to tell about how we got to be who we are today has tremendous power to shape who we will be tomorrow.

Here’s the thing: I am tremendously invested in how you choose to tell your story.

In part, I am invested because I care about you, and I have a selfish motive as well.  I care about how you choose to tell your story because none of our stories is entirely our own. We are connected, you and I.

The details of your story might be your own, but the narrative arc is ours. In the largest sense there is no your story and my story. At least I don’t think so.

I believe very firmly that we are all part of God’s story, which makes this week a fantastic time to talk about story because God’s story (and ours) will unfold before our very eyes next week.

The story of Holy Week is one of the greatest stories ever told.  It is a story of great celebration, of epic betrayal, of inexpressible sorrow and unspeakable joy, of brazen power struggles filled with great suspense and unexpected twists—and a surprise ending that NO ONE expected.

Yet, it is OUR story: the story of the Christian faith is a story in which each of us are invited to play our parts.

That, first, makes us characters in God’s story.  More importantly, it makes God the author and director of our stories.  Although we might be people who have the power to choose how we interpret the narrative of our pasts, God has the power to shape the way our stories end—and it’s fantastic!

Holy Week is all about story.  It is a story from our past that tells the story of our future, one in which our stories turn a corner.  My story, your story, every story hinges on the events of Holy Week.

As Frederick Buechner describes it, next week the tragedy of our lives meets the comedy—the good news—of the gospel, and they intermingle to form a fairy tale that’s too good NOT to be true!

So sometime on Easter, this Sunday afternoon, when you’re home from church and Easter dinner is fading into memory, do me a favor: Make God’s story your story by remembering the message from church that morning.  Smile, and say under your breath, “…and that’s how I got to be who I am today.”

Three keys for writing a new story for a New Year

typewriterBy Joe LaGuardia

Every year I set out to keep some much-needed resolutions.  These resolutions have to do with change: I’d like to eat less, exercise more, pray without ceasing.  The usual New Year’s stuff.

Since I rarely keep these resolutions beyond the second or third week, however, I wonder if perhaps I’ve been going about this all wrong.  And, if you’ve had trouble keeping your resolutions in years past, maybe you’ve gotten it wrong too.

It’s not that we have to change our life so much as we may have to change the way we see our life.  Whenever I’ve changed how I see my life in the past, a change in my behavior, values, and habits followed.

One of the ways is to view life as a story that is slowly unfolding, one in which you can sense a series of beginnings, middles, and endings.

Call them chapters if you will.  Each chapter tells a different side of the main character–you!–and when one chapter ends, a new one begins.

So what if you had a bad habit in the past?  That chapter has ended, and a new chapter can begin.

Maybe you came out of an abusive relationship.  This is a good opportunity to write a new chapter beyond the abuse that has shaped your life all too often.

So, with that in mind, here are three keys to consider when writing your new 2015 story.

1.  Your story is what God says it is, not what others say it is.  God has created you in God’s own image and you are a child of God.  Don’t let others tell you how your story should either unfold or end.

If you were to write your story this year with your Heavenly Father in mind, how would it be different?  What authenticity and vulnerability might empower you to change for the better?

2.  God has a purpose for your life, so your story should have a purpose too.

Have you ever read a story or watched a movie that didn’t have a purpose?  A story with no purpose has no direction; it just stumbles along.

purposeI know that we stumble along in life sometimes.  We lose a job or our hearts get broken, and we can only go from day to day like a person meandering in the dark.

Some seasons in life are like that; and, overall, our story has a purpose because God has a purpose for us.

The Bible labels this purpose a “call” that God gives us.  We are all called to be a part of God’s story.

The second letter of Peter says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10).

3.  Your story won’t be complete without recognizing how others play a part in it.

On the internet, you will find what are called “internet trolls.”  These are people who go from status update to status update. blog to blog, article to article, and post to post only to criticize, leave negative feedback, and simply publish bad advice or mean comments in general.

Trolls have encouraged more than one suicide, and they are ruthless in their backbiting and baiting.

These are not people that make up your story or should be a part of your story.

Characters that are a part of your story should be positive and help you fulfill God’s purpose in your life.

I recommend building a circle of friends made up of mentors, cheerleaders, teachers, and friends that make for an effective support system.  Do not neglect this part of your story, even if it means distancing yourself from the trolls in your life.

As you look forward to the new year ahead, I hope that you will put an imaginary pen to paper and write something new.  I hope that it will be God-inspired and that you will be the very person God has made you to be, for without God, your words will be fleeting and ever failing.

How I love to tell the Story

atelier-storytelling-mobileBy Joe LaGuardia

I love a good story.  Before I came to the South, I thought I had mastered the art of listening to and telling stories.

It was around the table with my family in New York that I heard captivating stories as a child.  My uncle, married into the family right from Italy, debated politics with my father, cursed the Pope to places I could not repeat as a child, and told stories of the mafia in the Old Country, all in broken Italian and shaking fists.

Then there were my cousins.  One recited lines from the Terminator movie in a generic Schwarzenegger accent and showed off his single, cross-shaped earring inspired by George Michael.

His brother was a master storyteller, telling us stories all of the time, especially when it came to his career.  One year he was in the Air Force.  Then he worked at an airport, then as a cop, then a dancer.  More recently, he’s been an air marshal, in the FBI, dug holes at a cemetery.  He is now in law school, but no one really knows for sure.

When you live with Italians, storytelling is in your blood.

But then I moved to the South.  It was here that I heard mountain stories of the Appalachia, immigrant stories of Miami, ghost stories of the Georgian coast, and Bible stories by the likes of Fred Craddock, Clarence Jordan, Flannery O’Connor, and Ernest Hemingway.

This is also the place that I heard stories about the church and the story of the Church.  It is where I came to understand–and believe in–the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of God’s salvation for all the world, north and south alike.

That was the old, old story that really made a difference in my life.

We all need a reminder of what the Gospel is.   It comes from the Greek word, euangelion, from which we derive the words evangel and evangelical.  It was a message of good tidings often used in the wake of a battle.

A messenger, (angelion in the Greek), came to tell good news of a king’s victory in battle.  So good tidings included both the message and the messenger.  It is no wonder, therefore, that the same Greek word for messenger is also the word for angel, for angels were messengers of good tidings from God.

But the Gospel is also a person.  In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is said to be “God’s word made flesh.”  Jesus embodied God’s good news and “glad tidings . . . to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19).

It is as if a bunch of guys were sitting around a campfire, debating how all of this redemption and salvation stuff were to occur, and one of them spoke up and said, “Well, God has to have a say in all this, doesn’t he?”

God did have a say, and that say was the Living Word of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was God in the flesh.  Jesus was God’s say in all of this and, in fact, God’s final say, “For all who believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

The Gospel is, therefore, about the person–Jesus–as well as Jesus’ message.  It is about the good news that God is victorious over sin and death.  God fought the good fight in sending Jesus Christ, and the resurrection spelled the end to every foe that ever threatened both man and creation.

With all of the stories I’ve heard through the years, I have found that the most power couched in the story of the Gospel.

Even today, it emboldens, empowers, and exalts all those who take God at God’s word.  And in a world in which good news is hard to find, the good news of the Gospel is as fresh as ever.