This final post is Part 3 in the series. To read Part 1, click here.
All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time.
– Richard Wagamese
I began this series trying to answer a question posed in our “Good Parenting Support” Sunday School class: What about your faith do you hope to pass on to your children, and what would you like to leave behind? Though unable to offer an answer in the class itself, the question has haunted me these many weeks as I’ve tried to explain my simple answer “the stories.”
But issues arose when trying to describe not only what those stories were but why they were more important than the transference of doctrine or moral-social stances. Further complicating the discussion is a frustration with the source of those stories: the Bible.
Or rather, how it has been used.
For so long, these stories were presented as secondary to the underlying point; mere vehicles for the important moral and doctrinal stories they carried. They were only useful or important according to their ability to transfer articles of faith and failing that, they were largely neglected.
My Sunday School education was intended to be something closer to a readings course in Aesop’s Fables than saturation in the mythos of a faith tradition. But as my doctrinal furniture shifted in my mind, the stories germinated in the soil of my heart.
As far back as I remember, my “faith” has been in constant flux. I cannot remember not asking questions or pushing back on accepted beliefs. As I’ve covered often, “deconstruction” was simply not a season or period of my life, because my faith was never a static structure to begin with. So bequeathing to my children the albatross of certainty seems to be not only a short-sighted repeat of past mistakes, but the height of intellectual and spiritual hubris.
Who knows what trials await that will fundamentally shift the ground upon which we stand?
Who knows what scientific breakthroughs in cosmos or consciousness are on the way that may utterly transform our concept of the self and the reality in which it exists?
Why would I ask them to hold tight to the unsure and invisible before all else?
But Josh, isn’t faith “Being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see?”
Why yes, dear reader, that’s true according to the writer of Hebrews—but maybe not the way we’ve always known it.1 When it comes to faith, I want my children to have the substance without the certainty: the latter narrows the mind, ossifying the imagination while the former widens its aperture into the true posture of faith: wonder.
I believe my children and this world stand the best chance of “being saved” by a generation of leaders whose minds have been expanded and inspired by wondrous tales of undaunted hope and eucatastrophic victory than by what is theologically or politically pragmatic.
And if nothing else they’ll be a lot more fun at parties.
I want my children to be kind and loving, to display their devotion to the Divine through loving Its spark within all things. I want them to follow the Greatest Commandments, not because they’ve memorized the verses lining out love’s cold logic, but because they remember the stories in which people actually did the loving.
I want them to know they are worthwhile and beloved, not because some dry treatise hammers the idea home, but because they are captivated and inspired by tales of fellowship and sacrifice and the vitality of every person to their community.
In the end, I believe the stories of my faith (and every other tale that can animate and inflame their hearts) can offer more than all the doctrinal knick-knacks people hand down to their children because, while Story can carry the freight of theology within its many layers, the reverse is simply not true.
And so I tell the tales and trust that the substance of my hope will be conveyed and remembered and brought out of the recesses of their minds to offer hope and guidance when they need it.
I tell the tales because, much like the Divine I still begrudgingly believe in, their enchantment is buried deep in the stardust of their hearts and the battered earth upon which they stand and into which I will one day send them.
Then one day, perhaps, when they stand at a crossroads of life or love or loss, they will not wonder whether there is some adequate instruction for them in some obscure verse, but will instead remember the likes of Jacob’s struggle with God through the night, in which he threw off his old ways and earned for himself a new name and a limp;
or the unflagging faithfulness of Ruth, who found love and new life in the land of her enemies;
or David, who accepted the paradox of his greatness and his great falleness;
or Mary, who opened herself to mystery when others would blanch from fear;
or the Carpenter of Nazareth, within whom all of these darknesses and lights and paradoxes of love and fear and faith and failure were carried, who stretched out his arms wide in love to even his oppressors, opening the door to a new kind of world in which the hope of a story from a faraway land could inspire millions to take up their signs of love even unto death.
1. It was at this point I launched into a rabbit trail analyzing the Greek of Hebrews 11:1, attempting to show that our given concept of “faith” as something of which we are “sure” and “certain” doesn’t follow the meaning. Also, Tolkien stuff. But my wise editor in chief suggested I take it out for now… so, if you’d like a separate post on this, let me know in the comments!↩