“The anthropologists got it wrong when they named our species Homo Sapiens (‘wise man’). In any case it’s an arrogant and bigheaded thing to say, wisdom being one of our least evident features. In reality, we are Pan Narrans, the storytelling chimpanzee.”
—Terry Pratchett, The Globe
I have always thought that someday, I would write a story. As a child I made my way “through the wardrobe” into C.S. Lewis’ magical land of Narnia, met the Pevensies and Mr. Tumnus and Jadis, the White Witch. And of course, Aslan. I got older and discovered the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, the story of a Hobbit who finds a precious trinket and his nephew who learns that this seemingly-trivial heirloom is a burden few could carry. I spent hours of free time drawing maps of my own made-up lands, contriving fictional alphabets for fictional languages, pondering the politics and religion of imaginary lands. There has always been a story inside me. Maybe someday it will find its way onto the page.
The first stories I ever heard, however, were from the Bible. My brothers and I used to start our days listening to cassette tapes of dramatic readings of the Bible, all the way from Genesis to Revelation. The first fantastical stories I learned to love were the stories of Moses—a bearded old man performing supernatural deeds with a staff; Balaam—a man who had a conversation with a talking donkey; Elijah—a warrior, wanderer, and wise man with extraordinary power. From Samson, the first superhero, to Esther, the queen who saved a nation, to Jesus—liberator, healer, and teacher, the characters I encountered in the Bible were every bit as compelling as Gandalf or Prince Caspian or Jean Grey.
Over 40% of the Bible is narrative, followed by around 30% poetry with the remainder being prose discourse like sermons, laws, and letters. But based on what we focus on in church, you might think it was the other way around. Granted, much of the Bible’s narrative is a little too…R-rated for church. Even the more “family-friendly” ones are a little messy. Reading the Bible’s narrative portions requires quite a different approach from reading Paul’s letters or Jesus’ sermons or the Proverbs. But narrative, story, is so central to who we are. The ways we actually live and move in the world are governed less by axioms and platitudes, and much less by facts and data, than by the stories we have absorbed.
The practice of Christian faith, of worship and discipleship, is—or should be—much more akin to reading a story than listening to a lecture. Stories are what captivate us. Stories stick with us. Stories make us who we are.
For the past year, our worship has been based on something called the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a three-year calendar of scripture readings that many denominations and individual churches use to plan their worship. It follows the liturgical calendar, the seasons of Advent and Lent, Christmas and Easter, and Ordinary time. On any given Sunday, hundreds of congregations are listening to and delving into the same passage.
This program year, beginning the Sunday after Labor Day and ending on Pentecost (Memorial Day weekend), we will be taking a break from the RCV and instead following the Narrative Lectionary.
The Narrative Lectionary is designed to take the worshipping church through the long story of the Bible, with 12 weeks of Ordinary Time in the fall taking us through the Hebrew Bible, 4 weeks of Advent transitioning from the Prophets into the events leading up to Christ’s birth, and then following the life of Jesus from Christmas through Easter, ending with the New Testament letters.
Our faith formation and discipleship opportunities (Sunday School, etc.) will follow the theme of Story, exploring mythology, literature, cinema and more from a Christian perspective. More information about each of these ‘chapters’ of the Christian year will show up in The View in the coming months.
I’m looking forward to another year of ministry with such an incredible church, a year of telling Our Story together.