Serial vs Self-Encapsulated Story

I enjoy binge watching shows through Amazon or Netflix. I bounce between liking shows that have a long story arc that the screenwriters spread across  several episodes and shows that self-encaspsulate a story into each episode. Recently I started watching a show that started as a spy show with each episode being self-contained. Slowly this show introduced a story line that ended up taking them four seasons of episodes to complete. I did not want to pay attention that long to figure out what sinister conspiracy was behind everything. I gave up watching the show. I read the episode recaps on wikipedia to find my desire for resolution satisfied.

I want television shows to find a way to wrap up their storylines after a couple of episodes or one season. Stretching across several seasons to solve the purpose for the show wears me down. I think the television show “Lost” is a great example of a show that started off with a good balance between long story arcs and individual storylines that could be finished up each episode. Unfortunately the show “Lost” became lost in its own story after a while and ended up being a self-indulgent mess.

So I have been thinking about my disappointment in shows that can’t figure out how to tell a story with conclusions and then reflecting on what this means for my preaching. I know as a person in the pew listening to another preacher that I am not very patient with the preacher that has several false endings. I watched a person preach online, and behind the preacher I saw the band shuffling towards their instruments. The band thought the sermon was wrapping up. They knew the cadence of the preacher, or at least they thought they did. The preacher went on for several more minutes. I wonder if that preacher went on with his sermon as punishment to the band that assumed they knew where the sermon was headed.

Humbly, I notice that when I preach I have had this problem. I look at the people shuffling and moving in the pew. I want to tell them, “Oh no, you think my sermon is almost over but I have two more pages of notes. Buckle up and get ready.”

In my own life, I wish each day had a neat conclusion. Days blend into months. Years slide into decades. I still have not found too many neat conclusions in my life. Some stories just seem to disappear because sadly friendships slide away. I wish I was better at nurturing friendships. Other stories in my life keep showing up, even though I want to move on. Satan is amazingly adept at repeatedly turning up in my life.

Some days do develop as self-encapsulated plots. I am glad my marriage has been a long arc in my life that has no end in view. I think my marriage will not become like a show that has gotten lost in its own story because we have made a commitment to each other to remain faithful to the covenant of love. Each story in our marriage has its roots in our promises of love. The stages in our love to each other remain fresh and exciting because we are also connected to the great story that is developing between us.

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I trust that the long story arc of my relationship with God will remain fresh and exciting. I know the end. God is my eternal salvation. I know some days I don’t see the plot, and I get worried that my life is going nowhere special. But during these aimless wandering moments, I have found tremendous strength in rooting myself to God’s promises. The Spirit of God strengthens my soul in dark moments by keeping in my view the light of God’s love. I live in the light of the resurrection, but some days the shadows of betrayal on Holy Thursday seem to hang heavy.

My story with God is different than the television shows I binge. I don’t know how the shows will end, and when I do anticipate the ending the show loses my interest. I know how my story with God will end, but amazingly my interest in God does not get exhausted. I love God revealing the adventure of every day. I think God has figured out how to balance revealing the long story arc and the self-encapsulated story.

Do you see the story that God writes in your days? I hope you see that God fills the story of your days with His love.

Serving the Story

NPR Music recently profiled Tift Merritt and Simone Dinnerstein. Merritt is a rising alt-country star and Dinnerstein is one of classical music’s great new talents. When these two young women became friends and decided to make music together, they didn’t know how to meet in the middle. It is not clear where alt-country and classical music can comfortably merge. Merritt sings by ear and Simone plays the music that is on the page. They had to learn how to develop a musical language to speak to each other. They found the space to collaborate when neither of them tried to be masters of the music, but servants to the task of sharing the songs.

Dinnerstein said about working together with Merritt, “It felt at first that what it meant to be a classical pianist in this situation would mean that I would need to play a lot of notes—to show that I could play a lot of notes because that’s what I do all the time.”

I think about this quote when I consider what it means to have a conversation with someone who has a strong faith but does not necessarily know the vocabulary of the church. I know I have wanted in those situations to show how much I know—to show that I know all the fancy words. As the conversation goes on, I find there is no fruit in demonstrating that I am the master of a lexicon of words. I don’t know about your experiences, but I am convinced that conversations that become demonstrations of knowledge do not help to invite a person to believe in Jesus.

ImageMerritt, commenting about her adaption of the lyrics of a Franz Schubert piece, said, “So I tried to rewrite it as this very plainspoken sort of cowboy poetry. … In a lot of ways that’s exactly what the folk tradition is about—where the fundamental principle is, you take a song, and you serve it. So many of these beautiful songs have been handed down and handed down, and you are part of the tradition that keeps those songs alive, but you try to bring something of yourself to it.”

We are servants to the story of Jesus. When we share Jesus with someone, we are giving them a story that has been handed down from generation to generation. None of us can claim to be masters of the story of repentance and faith. We are servants to the Word of God and we try to find something of ourselves in the story of Jesus. When I share the good news of Jesus with someone else, I hope they find themselves invited to be a part of the story.

There are thousands upon thousands of people who have heard the story of Jesus and have identified with it in some way. My sin deeply grieves me and yet I wonderfully rejoice in my savior. I am rescued and delivered into life by Jesus.

This Easter season, have some purposeful conversations with people who do not know that they are part of God’s story written in the suffering, dying, and rising of Jesus. You don’t have to be a master of the vocabulary of the doctrines of the church to share the story of Jesus. In sharing your story you can say, “I was lost but now I have been found, I was dead but now I live, I was broken but now I am whole.

Sharing your story only makes sense because you are a part of the story of Jesus. None of us are masters of this good news. We are servants to this story that has been shared from generation to generation.