Entering the Story

Last Saturday, I took time out from being hostess for my mother-in-law to go to a half day workshop. It was called “Entering the Story: A communal exploration of the kingdom of God.” It was facilitated by the staff of Re-Imagine, a local emerging-church-type group. This is the same group that organized the Spiritual Ecology workshop I went to in June.

I loved the introduction: “What is the story that shapes our life together – the good news that we have to show and tell? We live up to the story we live under. Jesus came telling stories to awaken our imagination for life in the kingdom of God. We dedicate this day to exploring how we enter the story of the kingdom through communal affirmations, scripture, conversation and by telling our own stories and sharing the fruits of our creativity and imagination.”

The day was divided into four parts, corresponding to the four elements of Mark 1:15: "The time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” Each heading was followed by a list of 7-10 affirmations, i.e.
  • “We believe God’s glory and presence are revealed in the created world.”
  • “We believe the revolutionary force of the kingdom is now at work, wooing us towards health, wholeness, love and peace.”
  • “We recognize that our actions and habits are often antagonistic toward the kingdom of God – and that the empty ways we have inherited and perpetuated must be dismantled and replaced by a new pattern of living.”
  • “We choose to live in the generosity and abundance of God’s kingdom.”
Each affirmation was followed by some relevant excerpts from the Bible, old and new testaments. After each set of readings and a little explanation from one of the leaders, we had a chance to talk in small groups about how the readings spoke to us, to share our questions and concerns, which was helpful.

In the first section, the theme was, “Because Jesus spoke saying, “The time has come…” we embrace our lives and our times as a gift and sacred trust.” It was largely about how we are part of a good creation, full of God’s glory and presence and meaning and love. We stood outside in the small patch of green grass and brown fallen leaves in the garden, and, as it turned out, in a light rain. It was a good setting in which to also reflect on what we are grateful for in creation and to say out loud our complaints and questions for God.

In the second section, the theme was, “Because Jesus spoke saying, “The kingdom of God is at hand…” we orient our lives towards the restoration of all creation.” It was mostly about how God’s love and power are available here and now – transformation and healing are possible. We spoke out loud our prayers for the healing of creation and we vocalized our groaning as part of the struggle for this healing and growth of the kingdom. One of the bible passages mentioned the groans of childbirth (Romans 8:19-23) and that image resonated for me. Growth and rebirth are not always easy. When one is in labor, the sense of hope is tremendous but the pain is real and now. And frankly, birth is only one phase of the groaning. There’s still a lot of work and struggle and pain in parenting for the rest of one’s life.

In the third section, the theme was, “Because Jesus spoke saying, “Repent…” we surrender our lives to imagine a new way of life.” We looked at giving up the empty ways that we have inherited and perpetuated. We asked God to examine us and to show us what we have to do. We claimed Jesus as a past example and a present teacher of how to live. We each drew a simple self-portrait of what it might look like to live in God’s kingdom, and then shared them in our small groups. I drew myself as just a circle, but surrounded by other circles, large and small. It represented my growing awareness of how isolated I feel in our new neighborhood, separated both from the heart of my meeting community and from the people who live around me. I don’t want to live as a separate nuclear family, I think that part of my sense of integrity is of having integrated relationships. I shared this with Chris afterwards and we are looking at new ways of connecting with our new neighbors. I am intrigued by the emerging church theories of being missional in our postmodern culture; being intentional about living a fuller, more sustainable life and sharing that, not strictly about Jesus.

The fourth section theme was, “Because Jesus spoke saying, “Believe the good news” we act with intention to pursue life under the rule and reign of God.” Pretty much it was about walking the walk – and faith that we can do it. We read the affirmations and bible excerpts out loud while walking around in one large circle, to invoke the physical and cyclical nature of our spiritual journeys. We were given time to respond to a set of queries in writing, individually, rather than small group discussion. These queries were very good. I may write more about my answers to some of them later.

The mixture of forms of expression was really good. Physical and verbal, drawing and walking. I liked the exercise of swallowing a mustard seed as a reminder of the potential for faith and power and God’s kingdom within us. The one piece of ritual that didn’t work for me was the informal eucharist before lunch. There was a glass of red wine and a loaf of walnut bread. Each person was to break off a piece of the bread, dip it into the wine and give it to another person, saying something like “the body and blood of Christ awaken the kingdom of God in you.” Apparently my spiritual scruple about drinking alcoholic beverages extends to communion wine. Who knew? On top of that, I felt a firm stop in my mind and my gut about partaking in the outward form of the sacrament. I wanted to participate in some way but I couldn’t figure out a way to say what was the problem(s) without making a big deal out of it. Which was unfortunate, because I’m sure the organizers would have been willing to make accommodations, if I could have given a coherent explanation. For example, one guy was allergic to walnuts and they just found him another cracker to use – no problem. But I was too discombobulated already to sort through my emotional reactions to get to rational articulations.

Also the ending didn’t work for me. I left feeling disconnected and alien. I’m not sure how much that is a reflection of my general state of being this month. I know I felt opened up and vulnerable and ready to make changes in my life. Instead, I went home and did laundry and ate too much for dinner. This is a reminder of what Deb Fisch was talking about when she said “watch what you fill up on.”

Long time readers of this blog may remember earlier steps in my process of becoming a christian. Here is one part of my emotional convincement. Here is part of my intellectual convincement. This workshop was another step towards really living the life, my conversion of manners, as Friends used to say.

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Blogger Unknown said...

great report Robin, It sounds like it was a great time overall. I wish I could have been there!

9/26/2007 12:34 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks, Wess. It's funny. This feels like such a monumental post in my heart, but when I read it over, it seems pretty mundane. I think that the workshop was most useful in helping me to resolve the contradictions in my mind about what it means to be a christian. It wasn't about affirming things that happened 2000 years ago - it was about committing to live the way I think I ought to. And welcoming God's assistance to do that, recognizing that it's not easy. There are parts about my consumption (on all levels) and my relationships (on all levels) that I want to work on. The workshop and subsequent reflection are helping me articulate for myself what those parts I can change are.

9/26/2007 1:17 PM  
Blogger Nancy A said...

That sounds wonderful. If you felt moved to share the name of the organization that put it on, I would like to contact them to get information about the workshop. I'm sure groups elsewhere might like to put this on.

I understand your hesitation about the bread-and-wine thing. Party because of our quaker scruples, but partly because it's a bit of a cliche (IMHO).

What if instead they had used a washing-of-the-feet ritual? Jesus never told people to drink wine and dunk bread in it, but he did wash people's feet and tell them to do it to others, as an example of a life of service. This would have fit so much more naturally with the theme of that workshop.

Thanks for sharing it with us!

9/26/2007 5:01 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Nancy, the group is called Re-Imagine, and there's a link in my post. I'll think more about the foot washing idea. I know some groups that have done it, in fact Re-Imagine may have done it at other times. One thing I think is that for some people coming out of an evangelical upbringing, having real wine to drink feels counter-cultural to them, and having the sacraments offered by men and women, informally to one another, takes it out of the realm of cliche. It didn't feel cliched to me, and that was part of my distress - I wanted to participate in some way and I couldn't figure it out. Sometimes, we (I) can overthink things and sometimes we (I) just need to follow our (my) leadings without really knowing why.

9/27/2007 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Robin. We all keep, sort of circling around the Nazarene, getting closer, orbiting farther out.
As an acquaintance and admirer of one of your most influential convergent writers and speakers, (un-programmed Friend) Marge Abbott, I am fascinated by unprogrammed tradition Friends who are, como se dice, making their introductions to Jesus.
One thing you said in this entry that resonated with me was about you guys taking time to tell your stories. Out in the world when people want to talk to me about Jesus, (or argue with me, or recruit me), the thing I like to share is how the Jesus of the gospels told stories. Not theology. Fed people. Healed people. Made them feel better. Gave them something real, and something real to hope for.
The stories part is really cool. It's so disarming. Anyway, thanks for the story.
Come see me in a week when I get my Burundian hip-hop praise music up on my site. They were so psyched to do it and know it was going on the internet. All flaming fundies, but really nice people...

10/07/2007 2:39 AM  

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