Becoming Story

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I’ve long had the feeling that we as a society lost something valuable when we moved away from the model of apprenticeship at work. But it was in a recent conversation with some United Methodist pastors that it struck me how Church revitalization will never—and has never—occurred without incorporating elements of the apprenticeship model.

A story is time itself, boxed and compressed. It is the briefest entertainment and simulacrum of real life, which is big and messy and requires a strange kind of endurance. The story is stylized for that flash of laughter and pain, thwarted desire and odd consummation, while life waterfalls with it – all of it – every day : prodigious, cloying, in decay. And when the story is over … it is over. Meanwhile, life carries on, river – swift. Michael Paterniti, “The Telling Room” page 32.

I always have a novel of some kind on the go. TV does not appeal to me much because most of the scenes are done better in my imagination. So a book. Always a book. An escape, a joy, a friend. And this Thanksgiving my book is “The Telling Room: A tale of love, betrayal, revenge and the world’s greatest piece of cheese.” The above quote about story and life, in this book about story, (one that I highly recommend) is utterly true.

A story is time, compressed. But life is big and messy and crafted not at all for the punch line, or the ‘aha!’ A story is a picture album, a recollection of moments, a time when life happened. But life itself, it unravels out into lengths and knots impossible to predict. Life is fractured and surprising, requiring great courage and resilient hope to do it well – which is not at all the same thing as doing it tidily, or doing it safely, or even doing it ‘right.’

We just spent four plus days with our daughter Rachel, her husband Curtis, and “The Girls”, our first granddaughters, now 14 and 16. The days were big and messy … and still flowing on in myriad ways. They left at four this morning to get home to Raleigh NC by noon so tomorrow can have a barest chance to succeed. As usual it will be a week of caring for others (church planter) and piano teaching for dad, days at the office for mum, and for The Girls an SAT test, a talent show, triple date to the mall, but who knows what will really be the life of it?

As a woman who is now trying to figure out the end of mothering, I realize that most of their life is going on without me. Part of my work in this season is to learn how to let that be okay, and not spray my residue neediness onto these blossoming lives. In a very real way this is my growth: they must increase, I must decrease. The beautiful gift of older life is something like being a keeper of the story – not being the story itself. (This is when I start to ‘hear’ my listeners bring out their barrage of arguments trying to secure me in a non-diminishing role… or maybe to secure themselves from what I am learning?)

The Abrahamic covenant from which my faith is drawn is decidedly generational. I know we have a blithe saying that “God doesn’t have grandchildren” but I am kind of sure He does. Love from God that saturated the cascading swirls of my life and is now a story of our family, hidden in the pockets of my children and grandchildren. That is enough.

The Girls came into my bedroom late last night long past my bedtime. I am awake of course, sitting in “The Telling Room.” They plunk down on the quilts covering the bed and stroke Walter (the cat) stretched out on top of me. We laugh for a while and kiss and I send them back to bed. They come to me, their mimi, but not to hear the story. They come to me, now, to see the story. Then they go on with their lives. I will be content to be a story for them to see, as long as God allows.

 

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Vice President for Community Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary and has been a church leader in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination since 1979. She has wide pastoral experience in partnership with her husband Steve. Together, they have lead three churches over 31 years, provided missionary member-care and pastoral retreats in Chile, Argentina and Venezuela since l985, and formation teaching during Field Conferences in Eastern Europe and Indonesia.

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