22 May 2007

Gimme Story

A friend of mine (Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew) is a writer...she has written books, one of which had a profound impact on my spiritual journey. She also writes a piece for the monthly church news letter and this past month what she wrote hit home in some strange way for me. I'm not sure where or how it resonates but I know that every time I read the words she has written some echo is left inside me. She wrote:

Because I've published two books with the Unitarian publisher, Skinner House, I occasionally get invited to preach at UU fellowships around the state. Humanists emerge from farmsteads and drive long distances to gather in tiny churches, often bough second-hand from Christian Scientists or other fringe congregations; they decorate the walls with religious symbols of every tradition, and light a candle at the beginning of the services to symbolize the flame of truth. I relish the chance to read Thoreau's words responsively on a Sunday morning. I admire the Unitarians terribly-after all, they (and not the more cautious Christan denominations) willingly publish my work.

And yet I must always be prepared in such circumstance to field the question, "How can you stay a Christian?" In other words, how can I, a bisexual woman with a sharp head on my shoulders, believe the Jesus-is-the-way claptrap and put up with the accompanying dogmatism of the institutionalized church? Unitarians are smart cookies; they acknowledge many paths winding toward one truth and have made a religion of this diversity. Those of us mired in a singe tradition, especially if an exclusive one, seem to them a bit primitive.

Here is my answer: I need story. Sure, Buddha's or Mohammed's story would work fine, but I've been given Jesus' story and I'm willing to stick it out. When people of faith commit to a story, we inhabit its ethos, its ethics, its characters and setting and circumstances; we accept the story's heritage, the burdens of its misuse and the glories of this unique path.

What Unitarians (and, incidentally, most fundamentalists) trip over is the seeming incompatibility of accepting many paths to one truth and believing the truth of one particular path. How, for instance, can a Christan believe Jesus is the way, truth, and life and at the same time honor the absolute integrity of Judaism? Ah, paradox!

Here's how I resolve this koan: God's a master story-teller. Great stories have arisen from the fabric of history and become faith traditions.

They are all true, and none are true. They're all perfect and flawed. Each on is worthy of a lifetime of immersion, because only from within a story can we fully appreciate its author.

No comments: