The Stories We Tell

852I still get flashbacks when I climb the stairs in our home.
Growing up, my parents would get into arguments late at night. They assumed my sister and I were asleep, but often their arguing would wake us up. It was then I’d sneak out of bed and sit at the top of the stairs to listen. Sometimes, I’d sit there for hours memorizing the shadows on the ceiling while they’d seesaw from whispers to screams and my tears would mix in with the carpet. Because my parents didn’t explain what they were arguing about or how they resolved the conflict, I would create a story in my head. Often that story involved me being at fault. Sometimes, it was because I was dumb or irresponsible or a failure.

Neuroscientists have discovered our brains crave meaning. We are actually wired to create stories. If no one shares with us a truer or better story our brain will take events and experiences and craft its own. It has to in order to find meaning. So much of modern counseling has to do with taking what’s happened in our past and reframing those experiences into a truer or better story. For me, this reframing has been a long road but I no longer think my parents arguing was my fault. While the top of the stairs still haunts me from time to time, God has created a better story that no longer ends with shame. The story has changed and so I’ve discovered a different meaning to those experiences.

What story are you believing?
When he left.
When she hurt you.
When you couldn’t look yourself in the mirror.
Our painful memories can become prisons where we lock ourselves into a shameful story.

When Stories Changed
I hear Christians all the time complain about the changing culture. The rhetoric is filled with false nostalgia and culture wars but I do think there’s some truth to what they’re saying. The culture is changing, but I don’t blame it on the gay agenda or the democrats of some other ridiculous scapegoat. I blame the changing culture on Christians.

See, there was a time when Christians were most of the world’s great artists. Many composed symphonies or painted masterpieces or wrote scripts or penned poetry that inspired the world. Their art told a better and truer story that compelled the world toward love, forgiveness, and freedom. Things weren’t perfect of course, but at least it was hopeful.

Slowly, Christians began exchanging the desire to write new stories for the need to protect the stories they already had. Churches turned from splendid stain glassed steeples to drab multi-purpose rooms. Instead of bold artists exploring new creative landscapes they became defenders of doctrine. Where there was once beauty, there is now bullet points. The creation story was no longer a story that evoked awe and wonder but a textbook to battle science and secularists.

This left a void.

Soul Cravings
I said at the beginning our brains crave meaning. Since Christians were no longer authoring new stories and charting new territory, our culture began finding meaning elsewhere. However, the stories are different. They are shadows, but they still speak.

Every once in awhile you’ll watch a movie and when it ends you’re not quite ready to leave the theater. It spoke to you. It called out of you something true or noble or brave. You felt a surprising surge of motivation to ask that girl out, or try for that job, or just drive fast.

Maybe it’s a song you’ll sit and listen to in your car while the rain pours down in a parking lot. It wells up in you something that’s gone dormant or possibly even something you’ve tried to forget. The Bible calls this when deep calls out to deep and it can feel like our soul runs ahead of our mind for a time. Like rumors of a land we once called home. We can almost envision the prison we’ve grown accustomed to creak open ever so slightly.

We are all searching for a better story.

The Last Chapter
This helps me make sense of heaven and hell. See, I don’t think the Bible is lying when it says there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God found in Jesus. (1) Therefore, sin does not keep us from God, our shame chooses to. What if hell is simply my decision to believe a bad story about myself? I choose to be that 12 year old on the top of the stairs who is dumb, irresponsible, and a failure. I decide this will be my story and shame becomes my meaning. I choose to slam the prison door closed.

Just like the trafficked girl chooses to believe her pimp loves her.
Just like the houseless man chooses to believe this is now home.
We choose to believe the hellish story about ourselves rather than something more.

Do you choose to believe the story,
He left because I am not worthy of love.
She hurt me because I deserved it.
I couldn’t look myself in the mirror because I’ll never change.
What story of shame are you holding onto?

No wonder after the first sin, God’s first words to the first two humans experiencing shame for the very first time was,

“Who told you…?” (2)

The author of life still asks us this question today.
I really think the Christian faith is an invitation to imagine a better story. As those who are made in the image of the Creator, he draws us to craft a new story. The great Artist calls to us a reality about ourselves that is truer and better than anything else we’ve settled for.

He reaches out his hand and offers a way out of the prison cell.
He opens our souls and reads us a new story.
He picks me up from the top of the stairs and gently tucks me back into bed.
He sees your shame and forever covers it in his cross.
He spots you from a long way off and goes running to embrace you and bring you home.

Today, I choose to believe this story about myself. It rings true. Far better.
I’d love for you to join me.

 

  1. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:38-39
  2. Genesis 3:11

 

 

 

5 New Ways Of Seeing Church

I’ve heard plenty of stories of people who love their church or those who have a story of why they’ve left their church. It can be everything from “Our band is great” to “I wasn’t being fed.” I’d like to look underneath our likes and dislikes and suggest five characteristics we’re all searching for. Beyond personal preference or style these are the five qualities you and I long for in a church.

car-image-300x1981. Limbic Space. Have you ever taken a warm shower and suddenly had a new thought or idea? How about while you were performing a monotonous task like driving down a long stretch of road or gardening on a warm summer afternoon? These moments are known as limbic spaces where our mind is free to wander. They are the in-between places that give us enough stimuli to keep our brain active but enough comfort and rhythm to allow our mind to go somewhere new. They are generally the spaces for epiphanies and they are essential for spiritual growth.

When someone complains the worship band is too showy, this is what they’re getting at. With all the noise, stimuli, and distractions in our world, just think how rare these limbic moments really are. The church has a rare opportunity to offer something our souls truly crave. It could be the slow lighting of a candle or the moment you stand quiet while all others are singing. These moments satisfy the soul as we’re aware we are in a very profound and divine moment.

2. The Third Question. Laura and I have this habit during dinner where we ask each other, “Tell me three things that happened today and how you felt about it.” It’s one of the ways we intentionally connect. I usually handle the first two moments of my day easily but I often struggle with the third. My days aren’t that eventful, I guess. However, it’s that third question that provokes honesty. The first two could be about traffic or a meeting I had but it’s in that third question I often go somewhere unsafe like, “I noticed on Facebook a bunch of my friends got together and they didn’t invite me and that made me feel lonely.”

Most church services I’ve been to stick to the first and second question and rarely go somewhere honest and vulnerable. You’ll mostly hear success stories from up front and if it is a mistake the pastor is admitting, it’s in the very distant past. However, when a church dares to go to that third question by admitting their doubt, questions, struggles, sin, recent convictions, and hurts, things get very real. I believe we’re all searching for a faith that matters and makes a difference. These authentic moments express a faith that rings true and satisfies our souls.

3. Gentle Reminders. It’s nice to go to church and be around a bunch of other people trying to do the same thing you are. The fact is, I suck at being a Christian. There’s been some Sundays I stumble into church on the verge of quitting this Jesus following thing. It can be so encouraging to be reminded there are other’s trying to follow Jesus as well. It’s helpful to be reminded I’m not crazy. It’s better to give than receive. I’ll find my life if I lose it. Self sacrifice is a better way of living than vengeance and violence. Forgiving someone will free me. These concepts don’t come easy to me and every Sunday I am reminded it’s not easy for others either. When the pastor reads from the Bible and talks about God I hear words that ring true and gently remind me of a life I was made to live.

181qmcl6s82cbjpg4. Fight Or Flight. When we hear something we disagree with, there’s actually a chemical released in our brain that triggers the fight or flight mechanism. Conversely, when we hear something we agree with there is a chemical released that actually gives us pleasure. It’s scary to think how many go to church to get their weekly fix because of their addiction to being right. However, I’m beginning to realize a good church experience is one when I hear something that threatens my current world view or ideas. Every time I repel this fight or flight mechanism I’m actually choosing spiritual maturity and moving past my caveman instincts. (see, some of you six day creationists just had a chemical released. I couldn’t help it.) I’ve learned to beware of a church where everyone agrees with each other. God’s dream for Christians was unity, not uniformity.

5. A Chance To Respond. Remember the afternoon following 9/11? Our country was in shock. I remember everyone driving really slowly and politely. I also remember the restlessness. We all felt our soul shudder and the internal need to do something. Some of us bought bumper stickers or raised flags. Others donated money and even some got in the car and drove overnight to help. Regardless, to be human meant to respond.

I believe the same element is necessary in any church. If we’re to believe the God of the Universe has spoken and we leave and do nothing, than something has gone terrible wrong. An important element in any church is how are they challenging us to live differently. How will this hour I’ve spent on Sunday matter on Monday? What will  be my next step toward the self-sacrificial love of creation? When I leave restless and ready for a change in my life than I know it was an hour well spent.

A Word To The Pastor. Wouldn’t it be fun if this became a checklist for you after each Sunday? It could be less about attendance or the amount of money collected but specific spiritual goals that lead to transformation. I wonder if planning to meet these goals could create a dynamic team where everyone from the sound guy to the children’s volunteer to the pastor are integrally woven into the seeing transformation occur. Just a thought.