What's Your Story?
By Scott Hughes
“I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question, ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”1
“Christian identity is always tied to a community of truth that bestows an identity – ultimately through baptism – of communal membership in the body of believers…identity in Christ is inextricably intertwined with participation in the church.”2
“Are you telling me a story?” I am not sure if that is a southern colloquialism or not. I remember hearing that question as a kid as an inquiry about whether somebody was being truthful. You can imagine then my confusion when I got to seminary and people kept talking about their “Christian story.” Or when professors talked about the “story of Christianity.” It didn’t take too long to figure out that they were using the word “story” very differently from what I had become accustomed to hearing.
Story has a way of defining and framing, while also revealing. Doubt the power of the story? Go ask parents about the birth (or adoption) of their child! You’ll get a story: A good one, a difficult one, or a painful one, perhaps. But you’ll most likely hear about their emotions and, if you dig deep enough, you might even hear allusions to the defining moments of the child’s life (think Isaac and Esau).
Stories reveal the meaning and interpretation we give to the events of our lives. How we narrate the events, positive or negative, that have major or minor impact, reveals the meaning we attach to them. Our lives are shaped by the stories we tell (and choose not to tell).
In our last post, we explored our role in the construction of the stories that shape our identity. This can be an overwhelming responsibility in the face of so many choices when we are given so little guidance. The result is usually ad hoc formed identities that leave us feeling fractured. Without a well-formed identity that gives shape and meaning to our lives, we often feel directionless, much like a pinball bouncing between bumpers soaring downward toward an eventual fall. (Notice how often people say of an experience, “It was surreal.” Often, they say this because they do not have a story that will give the experience meaning.)
Having a well-formed identity does not have to come about through individual negotiation. In fact, I’d argue that we are often unaware of how our identities are being shaped by cultural stories such as consumerism, materialism, atheism, and so on.
The Christian story can be our defining story that names an identity and helps us to make meaning of our experiences. More specifically, our identity is bequeathed to us in our baptism. In baptism, we become part of a larger, communal story with a past, present, and future. Baptism initiates us into the community of believers who are claimed by God and sent out as God’s witnesses to the world in the ministry of reconciliation. This story, God’s story, helps us navigate a sky that seems devoid of meaning.
Reflection Questions for Individuals:
- What are the defining events of your life?
- How does God’s story give shape to your story? (Passages such as 1 Peter 2:9-10 might help.)
Reflection Questions for Church Leaders:
- Does your church practice a “Remember your Baptism” service? If it does not, consider this service: http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/new-service-of-reaffirmation-of-the-baptismal-covenant.
- What are some specific ways we can help participants in our church live out the covenant we make in baptism?
1 Alasdair MacIntyre quoted in Setran, David P. & Kiesling, Chris. Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 157.
2 Setran, David P. & Kiesling, Chris. Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 79.