Saturday, November 12, 2016

When we step back from the fray of all responsibilities, obligations, distractions, activities, and busy-ness we discover beneath all these engagements there is something that binds our lives together and provides our lives with meaning. This binding agent is stories: family stories, fictional stories, stories of heroes and heroines, stories of saints and sinners, stories of history, stories of love or hope or hardship or comfort or strength.
Can you imagine life without "once upon a time" or "in a kingdom far, far away" or "there once was a" or "he spoke to them in parables" or “did I ever tell you about the time” or “your grandfather and I once were fishing when…” or “my first kiss was with…”?
My boys are always asking me to tell them about some event in my life and they'll even sometimes just ask me to tell them some unknown story from my life that they haven't heard before.  I recall my daughter, when she was a youngling often asking me to tell her a made-up story.  She was demanding too.  She wouldn't settle for any stories that didn't have excellent detail and infused with deep meaning.  We are a storied species, as much story as we are cells and sinew, perhaps more.
Stories are powerfully archetypal, they're emotive and sometimes disturbing; they're able to open our minds and hearts to lessons we may prefer to ignore or have difficulty accessing ourselves.  They teach us things that cannot be explained any other way than in a story, things that cannot be put into an equation or formula or list or even a statement or rule.
Some stories are make-believe, which is different than untrue.  They may not be factual as we might consider fact, but that does not mean they aren't true.  Truth has to do with something far more powerful and significant than facts.  Facts are important, but truth teaches us about the life for which we yearn, the substance that we seek, the purpose for which we live, the love for which we are willing to die.
We are shaped by the stories of our lives like clay is shaped in the hands of a potter; shaped by the stories we have heard and the ones onto which our souls cling.  Sadly, we live in a culture bereft of substantive stories.  We live by tweets and posts and blogs and five reasons this or that and fifteen second commercials and thirty minute comedies with problems, crisis and resolution neatly packaged in irreverence and disrespect we've been sold as humor.  We live by the news stories of scandals and black and white/good and bad dichotomies without the grays that challenge us.  Few of us wrestle with angels like Jacob; few of us are visited by strangers we take in and protect; few of us would know what to do if we saw a valley of dried bones rattle and begin to come to life.
The dreams we have in our sleep are our deep need for stories speaking to us in mystery and metaphor.  And they affect us the way stories affect us—following us throughout the day like a shadow.
And so I am thankful, grateful for stories; for the stories I heard from my parents about when they were kids, the stories I heard of my great-grandparents and grandparents, the stories of family secrets whispered, the stories of my mother selling acorns to her neighbors when she was five, the stories of my father working on building homes with his father, the stories of my siblings, the stories of me when I was too young to remember, the stories of my father during the war, the stories of distant peoples and distant lands and distant hopes and dreams, especially the story that I'm living.
What stories define you?  What family stories do you remember?  What stories will you tell?  What stories do you long to hear?  Ask someone you barely know to tell you their story and then listen to them.  And see what happens to you and to the other and to your stories.
Furthermore, realize you are a storyteller and as such you are empowered to do amazing things by shaping your story as it weaves in and out of the stories of others and the little wiggle of space and once-upon-a-time you are granted.

© 2016 Stephen Carl

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

We live in a terribly harsh world. Yes, there is beauty. Yes, there is good and there are people--perhaps most--who are kind and generous and helpful. Still, there is a lot of heartache and terror. There are times when I feel like my faith and beliefs have equipped me with a squirt gun in order to fight a raging, out-of-control fire. What good can I do? What benefit is there in the gospel when the world burns out of control?

I walk through Central Park and it seems to be an unreal oasis in the middle of a city of disparity and hurt and anguish. Even in this oasis I see a homeless man sitting on a bench asleep, who has clearly soiled his pants recently, all his worldly possessions gathered on either side of him in plastic bags. I can hear the traffic nearby as cars and trucks and buses and pedestrians hustle and rush toward their own destinations, acknowledging one another only as someone to navigate around, as someone in the way between them and where they're going. The streets are littered with the dirty smudges of discarded gum, now a semi-permanent part of the sidewalks. A baby cries, a man shouts, a woman weeps, a horn honks, brakes squeal. Beneath the streets and buildings there are dark tunnels through which subways clack over the tracks carrying commuters, as they blankly stare through one another or scroll through their smart phone messages or read a book and ignore those around them.
In the buildings there are people, like ants or bees, busy with their work. Producing little of consequence, but distracted from the empty ache in their heart.
Around the world there are human traffickers ruining the lives of men, women, and children. As they do so they are killing their own souls with each dehumanizing act. Elsewhere there are deals being made as laws are being ignored; money being exchanged for political favors; corruption that poisons hope and the future as well as the ecosystem that sustains all life.
There is so much terror that never makes the news, so much suffering, so much bribery and exploitation and violence. My little squirt gun is inept and useless against such relentless fires.  I feel impotent and it seems that God is only a flimsy Dixie cup of water I can toss on the inferno.

And yet, that betrays the size of my heart more than it represents the power of God; that discloses my lack of faith and trust in the omnipotent Creator rather than acknowledging the reality of the world.

My little squirt gun is not all there is. There are billions of others who have their squirt guns. And we have an unlimited supply of water. And we have hope and persistence and vision and encouragement and examples of the faithful before us. And we have an example to provide for others to be inspired. And behind our puny efforts to make a difference is God, who will not permit one person to pass from this life without knowing the terrifyingly wondrous love God has for us, each of us. That extinguishes all fires in an instant.

© 2016 Stephen Carl