The Stories We Need To Tell

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. 

Rev. Jeremy Smith is pastor of First United Methodist Church of Seattle, and a blogger at

Comments (4)

  • I think, for me anyway, that it’s helpful, when so many people claim to own the truth, to go back to Wesley, and in particular I like “Catholic Spirit”, which I’m sure all of you know much better than I do. It’s always tempting, and easy, to cherry pick verses or, in this case, sentences. But I do like this sentiment, especially when momentous decisions are being made for the institution of the UMC.

    “4. Nay, farther: although every man necessarily believes that every particular opinion which he holds is true (for to believe any opinion is not true, is the same thing as not to hold it); yet can no man be assured that all his own opinions, taken together, are true. Nay, every thinking man is assured they are not, seeing humanum est errare et nescire: “To be ignorant of many things, and to mistake in some, is the necessary condition of humanity.” This, therefore, he is sensible, is his own case. He knows, in the general, that he himself is mistaken; although in what particulars he mistakes, he does not, perhaps he cannot, know.

    5. I say “perhaps he cannot know;” for who can tell how far invincible ignorance may extend? Or (that comes to the same thing) invincible prejudice? –which is often so fixed in tender minds, that it is afterwards impossible to tear up what has taken so deep a root. And who can say, unless he knew every circumstance attending it, how far any mistake is culpable? Seeing all guilt must suppose some concurrence of the will; of which he only can judge who searcheth the heart.

    6. Every wise man, therefore, will allow others the same liberty of thinking which he desires they should allow him; and will no more insist on their embracing his opinions, than he would have them to insist on his embracing theirs. He bears with those who differ from him, and only asks him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question, “Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?”

    “… a man of a catholic spirit is one who, in the manner above-mentioned, gives his hand to all whose hearts are right with his heart…” How best can women and men enter the GC with a “catholic spirit”? We all think the “other” has “invincible prejudice”, but a humble spirit would keep nudging us to realize we are often just as culpable.

  • I’m not a biblical scholar, but words are symbols, and can be interpreted in differing ways. They can also be translated in different ways – the same words can be translated differently by two different translators. So perhaps there are some living today who have a monopoly on that “truth”, but I think that the mystery of the divine goes infinitely beyond what any of us can understand or think we can understand. We can only hope to grasp pieces of it, some of the awe and wonder and majesty, just a tiny nano-sliver, and hope to be open enough to grasp more as we go through life.

    There may be “truth of God’s Word”, as you say Tom, but at best you, and I, and Bishop Stanovsky, and my preacher, and my doctor, and the last Nobel winner, and St. Jerome, and Martin Luther can only get a glimmer of it. For me to think I know the full truth would carry a lot more hubris than I know I could ever hope claim. Wise people have been researching and studying and kicking around how to interpret these verses for centuries. I just hope to learn more, to go deeper, each day than I have before. It can only be a humble journey. A follower’s journey. A seeker’s journey.

    Having said all of that, I loved this chapter. I had never considered all the richness that McClaren brought to the second paragraph, for example. I highlighted the whole paragraph and put three exclamation marks next to it. Another way of looking at the infinite number of ways the Bible might be interpreted. I got excited!

    I also gave a good deal of thought to where the “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of heaven” is and what that means. Though I loved reading the Divine Comedy, what seems more real to me just in living is experiencing a bit of hell right here in my life. And also a bit of heaven, in watching the birds and squirrels and sunrise just in my backyard. I was just reading another, this time Catholic, author who was talking about how our challenge is to be totally present to the divine in every moment. When we touch that absolute, that glorious rainstorm, are we not touching the unfathomable? Are we, perhaps, seeing heaven “at hand, or within reach, today”?

    Is the kingdom of God, really “life, life of the ages, life to the full”, which is “resonant with this word aliveness”? Is it found as much through the experience of taking a step, stumbling, seeing cracks, marveling that our whole natural world, all of creation, works in ways that we can never, ever understand and certainly never control? Everyone looks through life, the Bible, this chapter, and so many other variables through their own unique lenses. I think the value, and yes I do think it should be and is enjoyable, of this kind reading and discussing together is learning from all these different perspectives, which should add depth and substance to our own views over time.

    Glad we are having this opportunity. Peace and blessings.

  • McLaren continues to deny the truth of God’s Word and the simple facts stated by Christ Himself. In Matthew 5 : 17 Jesus declares ” Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets: I am come but to fulfill”. Clearly Jesus’ actions and statements confirm that He has the power to forgive sins, has authority over all manner of evil and that He is indeed the Messiah; capable of all the miracles foretold by God’s prophets.

    There is no room in in our faith to debate the authenticity of God’s Word. As usual, McLaren has no source reference for his personal unsubstantiated statement “they started telling wild, inspiring stories…”. How about them testifying to The Truth of what they witnessed? Why would anyone put their faith in anything less?

    Heroic imagination, Dreamers, wishful postmodern thinking and and idealists are just that. Only faith and obedience to God’s plan of salvation makes any eternal difference. God’s truth offers reconciliation one soul at a time. None of man’s wisdom is a substitute for God’s grace.

    How sad it is that the rejection of the Truth of our Messiah and God’s Holy Word is still ongoing in the fallen world with postmodern writers.

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