CrossOver reflection for Week Eight • Beginning January 20, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 21
Rev. Jeremy Smith
We see the stories we want to see. Lin-Manuel Miranda was sitting on a beach reading Ron Chernow’s historical biopic Hamilton and he said to himself “this is a hip-hop story.” Adapting the historical narrative into a new musical framework formed the basis of the Broadway smash by the same name. Amidst the historical narrative, Miranda saw a story that was familiar to his world, and he brought it to life.
We also see the stories that we are trained to see. We see the same story again and again in many forms of storytelling. The “Hero’s Journey” is found in many stories, from Star Wars to Lion King to Grimm’s fairytales. Ten Things I Hate About You is a 1999 remake of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” and 2018’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before recalls parts of 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love. Blockbusters often offer only small variations of stories so familiar to us. We see the same story so often that we don’t realize how unoriginal it really is.
So which stories do we see in Scripture? The ones we want to see, the ones we are trained to see, or the ones we need to see?
Brian McLaren, in Chapter 21 of his book We Make the Road By Walking, writes about miracle stories in the Gospels. He doesn’t focus on whether they historically happened—what matters more to McLaren is the reason for telling the stories. Why tell that Jesus turned vats of water into wine? Why tell that Jesus cast out a demon? Why did the followers of Jesus consider these stories important?
I’m partial to the healing miracles. I want to see them as true so I can find healing for my ills. I also am trained, as a theologian, to see them as testimonies to a God interwoven in the brokenness of humanity and caring about the afflicted.
But maybe these were stories that needed to be told by those communities: stories whose maladies were emblematic (a blind man was healed because his community is blind to the marginalized, and so on). Telling these stories was a witness both to the familiar communities of the present and to the eternal truths to which Jesus offered his eternal compassion. The particulars don’t matter as much as it was important they were told.
So it is with us. It’s not enough to read stories about Jesus. I believe we are stories too. We tell stories by our words, our actions, our deeds, and our character. We bring heroism or tragedy to our everyday life, to our mundane choices that teach others about us and about our faith.
We are called to live and tell good stories. Stories of justice and peace and perseverance that point to a God whose love and faithfulness is unmatched and unrelenting. To live as stories of people who stand with the marginalized and confront the powers and principalities. In the words of Riverside Church’s Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, “We have to preach a radical Gospel because no one else is.”
In a world where a psychology of enmity, fear, and hatred of enemies rules, a world where polarization is lifted up and a hostile imagination is inflamed, it is up to the dreamers, the idealists—us!—to foster a heroic imagination where a hero appears, where Jesus returns, where the Spirit moves, where courage conquers fear, where love bears all things.
What stories are you telling today? Tell them and live a life that tells it too.