Stories can take many forms. Some are straightforward narrations of life and others are imaginative tales likely full of vampires or zombies. The powerful thing about a good story is it can work regardless of the material, yet a good story must know the core of its being. Breaking Bad played well because Vince Gilligan and his team of writers knew what they had and they were faithful to the story. It made sense and was compelling from the first to the final frame.
I think this is an issue for the church today. We are unsure what kind of story we are a part of. It is easy to lose sense of the ongoing narrative in day to day, but it is the most important task of the church. We must be drawn into God’s past, present, and future to ground ourselves for life.
As I thought about this today, I came across a short blog post on Richard Beck’s blog. The simple post is a reflection on the Pope’s embrace of a man with severely disfigured man. Above his reflection is a picture of Pope Francis as he hugs the man. This is no small action; it is reminiscent of the way of Jesus. Prior to this, a little boy made national news when he ran on stage to greet Pope Francis during a speech, and it was with great care that he welcomed the little boy. Pope Francis is a man who understands the story he is a part of. The life of the Crucified Messiah is in his imagination.
A good storyteller must have an imagination. They must be so immersed in the thickness of their narrative world that they are able to transport the listener or reader into the new reality.
Last night, I read an article about Stephen Colbert’s writing team. The 15-person team works hard every night to hold to the shows vision. The success of every bit and each joke is weighed against the backdrop of the world of Colbert. They must have a working imagination of life on the Colbert Report. If their writing falls outside of the arc, the show and its narrative disappears. The show does not work if the writer draws on something outside of the narrative’s core.
This is what I think we are. We are a collection of writers in the ongoing, unfolding story of God. It is God’s activity that sets the vision and shape. Our task is to be so drawn into the imagination of the unfolding Christian story that we are able to speak and perform the story. We must know the sweeping moves or we will get lost in the minutia or worse “jump the shark” all together. It will be like a narrative that spends far too long describing the bookshelf in the main characters home office. The description might set the room nicely, but will likely be lost on the reader.
I like what Doug Foster says in Seeking a Lasting City. “Our story is the story of Christ. If anything has to be kept straight, it’s who Christ is and therefore who and what the church is. Christ’s identity and nature define his church as redeemed people who, like Christ give themselves for others.”
The Church is a collection of people who are at their best are constantly reminded of the story in which God has called us into. We need to always be reminded this story is about a God with a jealous love for the world and plans to put all things back to right.