Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except by way of me.” – John 14
“All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.” – Octavia Butler
“It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered.” – Sam Wise, The Lord of the Rings
So, what’s your story?
One thing I’ve noticed (you probably have, too) is just how friendly people are right now, intentionally so – in the neighborhood, grocery stores, and at the few places still open.
And strangers on a bike trail.
I was cycling on the Trinity Trails and stopped to take a short break near the Clearfork Trailhead. Another guy was there, standing beside his bike (6’ feet away).
He smiled, “Pretty great weather for a ride.”
“Isn’t it?” I answered back. But really, seems like talking about the weather would be one of the last things on our minds right now, except that it certainly provided an escape that day.
“So, what’s your story?” he started. “How’re you doing with all that’s going on?”
I smiled, “I was about to ask you the same question. If you’d asked me two months ago, right, I’d have said ‘couldn’t be better.’ But now, seems like the story’s changing. Everyday. And it’s going the opposite direction I’d been planning on for the past few years. Everybody’s healthy in my circle, so that’s a good thing. Right? What about you? What’s your story?”
He laughed, “Well, family and friends all seem fine. Can’t know for sure, I guess. So I worry. And I’m in financial planning. I mean, I know the economy’s always up and down. But hadn’t really planned for this.”
And he laughed a kind of ‘well, whatcha gonna do?’ kind of laugh.
I took that as my cue to ask, “So, what do you think your story’s gonna look like in the future?”
And he gave me that sort of pat answer that a lot of us might offer in such a time of anxiety and daily unknowns, “Who know’s? Hopefully we can take care of this thing soon, get the economy back on track, and get back to normal.”
I’d like to say, I pressed him further and asked for more clarity – because I believe deeply that we are the authors, and co-creators, of our stories. Co-creating with the very Ground of Our Being. I’d like to suggest to him that we may not know how our stories end, but we make our roads by walking them intentionally, even in the dark.
But that’s kinda heavy and he was ready to make his way back home and I’d just started my ride. So, we wished each other well and started on our way.
A lot of us think and pray and lean on God in times like this, in a similar fashion to how my briefly encountered new friend on the bike trail explained his hope for the future – that this thing gets taken care of, that we and our loved ones are safe, and that things get back to normal.
But I wonder sometimes if we lean on God for the wrong things. Because our tragic experiences, or life-threatening realities we’ve survived, any significant failure in our lives quickly reminds us things aren’t really meant to go back to “normal’ – as if life in such experiences of grief and despair and the unknown could ever return us to the way things were.
The challenge of being in such “stories” as we are now is really about reconnecting with the very substance of our being and the depth of our character in such times. What theologian Paul Tillich called “re-membering.” Not as heroic. But as courageous – open hearted, vulnerable, risking the gift of noticing to see and remember what else is there besides the grief or self-doubt or fear.
I have talked, texted, Zoomed, and emailed with a lot of you these past few weeks. And I know this is hard for some of us. But those of us who have experienced the other side of such depth of grief or fear or doubt know this kind of courage. Know what is worth all our moments and what calls us to respond out of the depths of our connections with life instead of the shallowness of our fear or doubt.
We are co-creating our stories in these moments in ways that we and others will look back on and say, “We didn’t know where this was all going, but we walked each moment as if we where we already where we needed to be.”
The story of Jesus’ disciples is a great example of this kind of open-heartedness with their fear and confusion and doubt. Following their sense of call to follow this wise, empowered (and empowering) rabbi, their story told them that he was the revolutionary One of God who’d come to overthrow the Roman empire and establish God’s kingdom. But when he started talking about being “the way, the truth and the life”, things got confusing. Their story seemed in contradiction to this one. This “way” he spoke of, this story, wasn’t the revolutionary destroyer of empires, but the revolutionary disrupter of how they were to see the world, their enemies, themselves- and even God. The kingdom to come, was already in their midst! Was already waiting for their stories to change. To see one another in need was to see the Christ. To live in love with life, one’s self, and one another was to be “of God.”
What were they to do with a confrontation like that?
What are we to do with ours?
So, how’s your story going right about now?
Join Charme Robarts, Brad Thompson, and I this Sunday, March 29, at 11:11 as we wrap up our Lenten series, #I am. Brad will be joined with keyboardist Justin Pate and we’ll have a few new online twists for you.
I hope you are well, keeping safe, and playing with your story.
Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven