For Lent, we have been exploring ways that we can change the world with individual spiritual practices, daily choices that will have a real impact on building a just world for all. Driving less and eating less meat and using less plastic and buying less stuff and widening our compassion. But this week, I absolutely failed.
I didn’t decide my spiritual practice on Sunday like I should have. I have learned that need to go into the week with a plan, if I am going to take anything in particular more seriously. As I drove all the way home from a meeting in Los Gatos on Tuesday, I thought well I guess it can’t be driving less this week and then on Wednesday as I bit into a prosciutto and brie Panini I realized it didn’t make sense to choose the less meat option this week and as I opened a large plastic zip lock bag to put the leftover pizza in the fridge, I thanked God that the spiritual practice of using less practice was already checked off my list. Well not really, it’s all ongoing. But this whole situation irritated me greatly because I like to tell the story about myself that I ALWAYS follow through on what I say I will do. I am that person who DOES WHAT SHE SAYS SHE WILL DO!
But obviously, that isn’t true. Even our best stories can’t be true all the time. It got my thinking about the wide variety of stories we tell ourselves, both consciously and unconsciously, stories that express what we value and what we don’t, stories that set us apart or stories that seek to explain who we are.
As Todd May writes, “Many of our stories about ourselves do this. We tell stories that make us seem adventurous, or funny, or strong. We tell stories that make our lives seem interesting. And we tell these stories not only to others, but also to ourselves. The audience for these stories, of course, affects the stories we tell. If we’re trying to impress a date, we might tell a story that makes us seem interesting or witty or caring, whereas if we’re trying to justify a dubious act to someone who is judging us (or perhaps ourselves), we might tell a story that makes us out to be without other recourse in the situation.
In the latter case, what we are doing is dissociating ourselves from a value we might be associated with and thus implicitly associated ourselves with a different one. Not all our stories about ourselves express values like these. However, many — perhaps most — of them do. This is so even where a story might seem to express a disvalue. Think, for instance, of people whose stories about themselves are often about things not working out for them. Whatever they try, they fail; the world conspires against them. These stories express values as well, values that often stem from resentment or even despair. They buttress a view of the world that justifies their being who they are and not someone more accomplished or happy or social.”
Last month, I was sitting a circle after a long day of leadership training devoted to uncovering our narratives and contexts- unveiling the stories we live by. I realized I had been continuing to tell a story that was no longer true. It wasn’t until I said it out loud in a group that I felt it. I had been saying for a long time, that I am not much of a risk taker. Being a perfectionist creates conditions under which risks are generally to be avoided. But later that week, as I reflected on what I had said, I realized that story was no longer true for me. It was time to tell a different story.
Amid the glorious green of the Pacific Northwest there were also a lot of dead end roads. Around middle school it became clear that education would allow me to never find myself stuck at one of those dead ends. I was driven to succeed and with that came a bit of fear about ruining my chances or messing up. I focused on doing it right and not taking risks. It just made things easier. There was a lot I couldn’t control, but that I could and it got me far. And yet somewhere along the way I had to take risks. In order to keep growing and going, I had to take a risk on the hope that where I was going would be worth it and to get there, I was required to take a leap.
Starting this community has been one of the biggest leaps of my life, asking me to draw deeper, to keep going when it seemed hopeless and to be a bold spiritual artist. It has required more financial, spiritual and emotional risks than I could have imagined and often the way forward hasn’t been clear. Maybe this is what creators of any kind feel? Dancer Agnes De Mille put it perfectly, “The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”
Surviving leaps in the dark and carrying on and taking risks and ending up finding myself standing here with all of you, tells me that it is time for me to tell a different story about myself. I am a risk taker! I am a risk taker for possibilities and justice and our Greater Love. I am a risk taker for beloved community!
Tonight, I want to ask all of you: What stories do you tell most often about your life? Are the ones you have been telling for a while still true? Are the stories you tell opening a way? Or do they lead you to a dead end?
The story we heard earlier, of Jesus and the Samaritan woman stands out for me as among my favorites in the Christian text, in part because of its drama, but also because I see it as an allegory about letting an old story die, so a new one can be lived.
We see that Jesus will cross boundaries of all kinds. And here he crosses boundaries of gender, ethnicity and religion. This allows even a nameless woman to be seen and heard and known.
Because she isn’t given a name, immediately, she is presented as the one with less status and power. Right from the start, we read the stories within the larger story, stories about who each of them are and what worth they have, stories about who has status and power and then much of it is flipped.
Professor of New Testament, Osvaldo Vena writes, “As a Jewish male, Jesus is in a position of advantage over the woman. But as a thirsty and tired sojourner, he is obviously in disadvantage, for he is a foreigner and does not have a bucket to draw water.
After the woman’s initial surprise, Jesus invites the dialogue by becoming vulnerable (“Give me a drink”) and by allowing the woman to exercise some power over him (she is the one with the bucket!)”
The story is a ko-an of sorts, as the metaphor for Jesus is living water and he ends up thirsty himself.
And right now it seems to me that what Jesus really offers the Samaritan woman is the chance to tell a different story about herself.
Because before this encounter at the well, the story that was her life, was the story of being an outcast, or the woman with five husbands, or the woman alone at the well, but then she finds herself in deep philosophical conversation and she is seen as worthy of rich engagement. Some say that the fact that Jesus, a Rabbi, disagreed with parts of what the woman was saying, is the best evidence we have that he was showing her deep respect. After their exchange is done, she leaves to spread the word.
One day she was living the story of an outcast and the next day she is telling the story of what a boundary crossing Love can do. Professor Vena contends that the Samaritan woman “legitimizes the discipleship of women” by sharing what transpired to the surrounding areas.
Maybe she awoke one morning later that week and thought, it is time for me to tell a different story about myself. Now the story she can tell is something different: I am not an outcast, I am a leader of a movement.
Jesus creates an occasion for healing and wholeness, by giving her the chance to tell a new story. Right now, just as things are, just as you are, you can always tell a different story. Tell a story that will give life and love and hope to all who hurt, including yourself.
Carl Jung, the Psychologist said that, “The reason for evil in the world is that people are not able to tell their stories.”
Perhaps this is because we are made of our stories and we need them to heard for us to be fully alive. And also maybe because pain can come from the stories that are old, stories that we no longer want to live.
Beloved of God, what stories do you tell most often about your life? Are the ones you have been telling for a while still true? Are the stories you tell opening a way? Or do they lead you to a dead end?
Right now, just as things are, just as you are, you can always tell a different story.
May it be so. Amen.
After a time of silence, we reflected together in small groups around these questions:
- What stories do you tell most often about your life?
- Are the ones you have been telling for a while still true?
- What stories can we tell about our emerging community?