The Necessity of Stories: A response to my open letter

I recently found myself at the receiving end of a post gone viral. For someone who has a very small social media platform, it was quite an eye-opening experience.

I wrote words that meant a great deal to me. I asked questions which were very personal and were questions which found a home in the deepest parts of my soul. I made myself vulnerable. I opened myself up and I quickly realized the questions I asked both resonated and offended in equal measure.

I subsequently spent two weeks talking with those who agreed with me, and more often, listening to those who disagreed with me.

At the end of it all, I don’t harbor ill-will or feelings of anger against anyone. For the most part, people were very Christlike- if not passionate- about their disagreement with me, and in a time when we need more passionate, Christlike disagreement, I respect them greatly for their fervor.

I have, over the past two weeks, also been thinking about how I wanted to respond to those who were offended by my asking tough questions.

Many have done a fantastic job explaining why it is very Biblical to question authority, particularly those in Spiritual leadership, and have done a beautiful job of citing Scriptural examples of this, and so I don’t feel the need to rehash this.

I do, however, think there is another aspect of this anger which must be addressed; this being the larger issue of our willingness to hear and respond to people’s stories and experiences within our communities.

We all love a good story. 

Whether it’s a book, a movie, a comic, or a podcast, stories and the characters within them, do something to us few other mediums can. They evoke within us feelings we can’t suppress (and we love them for this).

We’ve all experienced the power of story, haven’t we?

I still remember tearing up as a 10-year-old when Goose dies in the arms of Maverick in Top Gun (don’t judge me!).

goose

I still remember the feeling of rage when Tom Robinson is convicted of a crime he never committed, by a jury that was never going to let him go free.

tom robinson

I still remember the feelings of wonder and dread as I read about Middle Earth, and the conflict between good and evil within her.

gondor

And I remember the feelings of anxiety and tension, wondering if Bilbo or Gollum would emerge from the dark victorious.

riddles

Stories create within us, this unique ability to know the heart and experiences of others.

To quote my favorite literary character, Atticus Finch,

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

To listen to another’s story is the sacred act of climbing inside another’s skin and walking around a while. Their eyes become our eyes, their skin becomes our skin, their hopes become our hopes, and their fears become our fears.

Our church desperately needs more stories. 

The comment section of my “Open Letter” is filled with stories of those who were wounded by our denomination. These stories are important and need a place to be told.

We need the stories of clergy hurt by their colleagues, congregants or superiors.

We need the stories of parishioners who were hurt and silenced by clergy.

We need the stories of the ways leadership has stifled questions and who subsequently pushed the questioners out of their ministry assignments or their home congregations.

Simply stated, we desperately need to hear the stories of the people.

We need these stories because they lead us to, as a denomination, a greater depth of empathy and compassion. And in a time of great misunderstanding or resistance, this empathy, compassion and commitment to understanding will become the balm that heals our corporate bodies and souls.

However, this road to empathy is a difficult one.

To gain a deeper sense of empathy and understanding, we as the church must allow ourselves to be broken by what we hear; by these stories of the people. We must allow ourselves to identify with the victim, to hear their stories, even when it creates within us a sense of instability and even (especially) when it goes against our own experiences.

We must listen and tell these stories, we must ask these questions, even when others demand our silence.

We must resist.

We must do so lovingly, generously, and in a deeply Christ-like way, but we must resist all the same.

We must resist because we are a people who exist for the broken. We are the followers of a Messiah who identified with those who were told to shut up.

We must resist because we follow a Savior who listened to the voiceless.

Our church seems to be dividing down an experiential line. 

We’re dividing ourselves along the lines of those who love and appreciate her, and those who have been wounded and find themselves unable to trust her.

And the gap between these two continues to grow.

Friends, we must remedy this. Friends, we can remedy this.

This remedy will come when we decide we’re done with being an idealogical people, and instead dedicate ourselves to becoming a story telling people.

Friends, lets tell our stories, and may we watch as the beauty of reconciliation unfolds before us.

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4 thoughts on “The Necessity of Stories: A response to my open letter

  1. Michael, I appreciate your transparency and openness even with the possible negative push back. I would be one of those who would not necessarily take your words in a positive way. I get what your saying, but my question to you would be this – What about those of us on the other side and our stories? You seem to only care about one side. There is another side, another story. It is a story like mine. I am a young (fairly…lol) Senior Pastor in the Church of the Nazarene. I LOVE this denomination AND it’s leadership, especially here in Texas. I am deeply grieved, even to the point that it was the topic of my sermon yesterday. Holiness in the Church of the Nazarene is under attack. Under attack by professors like Dr. Oord. Under attack when he allows people like Dr. Jay McDaniel to come and spew his universalist ideals and thoughts all over. Under attack when he gives rave reviews for Rob Bells book “Love Wins” and its bend toward universalism and the non-existence of hell. Under attack with views taught to students that God changes His mind, God makes mistakes, God chooses not to know everything, and evolution not intelligent design. My story is that my heart breaks for those who have bought into these lies and have left the narrow path to heaven for the wide path to hell (which does exist). This is not an attack on the freedom for Dr. Oord, or you, or anyone to have a different opinion, but it is an attack on trying to change the Church of the Nazarene. There are PLENTY of other YOUNG pastors with stories like mine as well!

    • Jim,

      I appreciate your willingness to read and comment on this post. If you don’t mind, I’m going to push back against some of what you’ve written (which, you’re welcome to do the same in turn).

      You seem to believe that my request to listen to stories omits some and invites few others. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you knew me (which is always the difficulty in blogs/social media), you would know I don’t need people to agree with me. I am happy to serve as an ordained minister with a wide range of beliefs.

      This is one of the reasons i love our church so. There is a great generosity to differing opinions. Some demand that the church hold strict inerrancy or that they state the only acceptable belief for creation is a 6 day creation. Instead, our church has chosen to allow grace in many of these theological stances. It’s possible to be nazarene and to believe in theistic evolution. It’s possible to be a nazarene and wrestle with what the Bible teaches about hell. Our doctrine is based on extreme generosity. If anything is under attack, it’s a willingness to dialogue. Never have i met a progressive pastor request for a conservative one to be fired. Never have I seen anyone say a 6 day creationist needs to be removed from their teaching position.

      Quite the opposite is true of the progressive experience within the church. I’ve heard many people state they are glad Oord was fired (and I’m not going to defend or accept any of your theological statements of him. That’s far too much for this post) and that they would have done it as well. I, myself, have found my credentials threatened because of a non-essential theological matter.

      Many called for Oords firing because of Open Theology (which is not about God making mistakes) and his view on Creation. Our traditions supports both. This acceptance was proven true when Oord’s theology was rigorously vetted (this past year) by two of the most respected theologians in our tradition and they declared him Orthodox.

      The problem isn’t a rejection of Holiness. The problem is we’ve lost the ability to unify on the essentials (The creeds/our Doctrine of Beliefs) and allow grace for non-essentials.

      I know you might disagree with me on many of my above mentioned statements. But, Jim, my tent is big enough for both of us to exist within the Nazarene church. I pray your tent is big enough for me.

  2. Michael, I have to agree with Jim here. Holding the line on a solid biblical foundation is critical. The inerrancy of the Bible as well as its literal translation is the bedrock of the Christian faith.

    The conversation is fine but I don’t believe a public setting for individual disagreements is a good idea. Likely leading to dissension, dissatisfaction and forms of envy and jealousy, in my opionion. Anonymous readers are left with the snap-shot view they last read. Not the context, the nuances or the relationships.

    Private or small groups are awesome! They are the core of the “church.” IMO, the way it should be most of the time. We can see and read each other, care and cry for each other, celebrate and laugh with other.

    I love you brother but I don’t see a positive to a public airing of dirty laundry, especially when the result seems to be correct even though we may have issues with the process.

  3. Michael, I recently ran across your twitter site.I wish you well on your desire
    to increase the “story dialogue.” byAs an institution the church will never allow
    itself to change it’s DNA! after 27 years as an Ordained Minister,Missionary to
    Colombia,assigned to the challenge of beginning the Church in the beautiful city of Cali. I would think that everyone in the International Church knows about the great impact it continues to make. Let me just say this.”All have sinned,and come short of the Glory of God.” Through the 100+ years the church has lost hundreds of Called Men by God and possibly to the much more important Kingdom of God.

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