Sunday, December 11, 2016

Delving into the Story

The other day I found myself at a reception for an ordination in the church basement. And I gravitated, as I often do towards the clergy. The bishop and his wife joined us. During the conversation, his wife, a talented actress and dancer, asked me about my discernment. I shared a bit about my team and my mix of joy and frustration about taking a long time to process my call and my journey towards who knows what kind of ministry (my discernment team members know my frustration and joy well, and I consider it to be a holy mix, ripe for the Spirit). And after I had given my little bit, she said, "What I meant was that I'm the only one at this table who is not clergy minded." And I agreed and there was an all together too brief conversation before I left. 

Today, I am going to go see her in her element, as a theater minded individual, someone who finds her spot comfortably on the stage, and I've been thinking about this interaction between theater and the Church, especially because she is not the only amazingly talented performer married to a bishop that I know. And it is the interaction between performer and cleric that interests me. I think there is something deep there. At the heart of it, they are both individuals invested in sharing stories. They both have a desire, a passion for delving into stories, for becoming part of the story. The actress literally takes on her character, leaving herself behind as she embodies a key part of the play. The clergy person delves into the story of Christ, and embodies to the best of their ability the character of Christ.  The actress uplifts people by helping people become engrossed in a tale that can shape their perspective. The clergy person tries to do the same, helping people embody Christ in their lives. 

To try to probe too deep into the similarities between acting and clergy work would cheapen both, but their investment in stories is something to hold onto and ponder. Because ultimately, our God's nature is shared to us in story. We learn who we were created to be through a story of God calling creation good. We learn about what lengths God is willing to go for us through the story of the Moses leading the people out of Israel and in the crucifixion of Christ. We find new life through resurrection tales, through manna in the wilderness and Mary Magdalene discovering that the man who she thought was the gardener was actually the risen Lord.  We find the pull towards newness of life, towards a life that truly is life, through the repentance of David and the scales falling off Paul's eyes. We learn Christ through sharing in the story, through being enveloped in the story.

And this season, we ponder the biggest story. The story of Christmas is not any more about Jesus' birthday than it is about Santa Claus. It's about incarnation, about God choosing to be among us, to be with us in a new and radical way. In a human way. And that humanity came to the earth in the deepest of poverty. He was not a rich prince, not a middle class white American. He was someone who had no control over his government, who ultimately killed him when he threatened their authority. He was born to a couple who couldn't even find a room at a hotel for him to be born. He was born to parents who had to flee to another country, become refugees, to keep him safe so he could grow up. And his mother's song at the proclamation of his upcoming birth shares God's deepest desires for humanity. God looks on us with favor and calls us blessed. God shows mercy and justice, and casts down those who are too powerful, not through military intervention, but through a way that always holds those whom the powerful oppress in their view, calling them to do better. God fills the hungry and helps them, through a multiplicity of ways that all require us. God remembers the promise made to us, that we would be God's and God would be with us. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this promise and hope. And if we, as Christians, little Christs, start living into this story, taking it on, acting it out, we find our world changed. We find that Christ comes again and again, not as one particular human, but as God among us. That is the Christmas story. It is not about a baby, it is about God coming among us in a new and radical way. 

May we become like the actress, embodying this key incarnated character. May we become like the clergy person, not just taking Christ on for a time, but working every day to try to live into this character in our own unique ways, sharing our particular gifts. May we ever be in awe of this story, this sacred scripture, written not to share facts but to give our lives a story that is truer than truth. Amen.