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Photograph: Martin Rogers/Workbook Stock/Getty

Stories that Shape Us

— A college president recently shared about how institutions distinguish themselves from their competition. “You can highlight your name and location, but beyond that most of the other vision and mission statement taglines quickly become indistinguishable. We all say something about our unique students, highly qualified faculty, and special curriculum. What sets us apart from others are the stories we tell.”

This is one of the most empowering as well as most humbling revelations.

When people in my congregation ask if the biblical stories are true I immediately see it for the trick question that it is.

The unanswerable question of “does it tell the truth?” is of far less importance than the question “what truth does it tell?”

For children and others who make meaning from within the concrete operational stage of development, we simply teach and learn the stories themselves. Questions of factuality cannot be distinguished in these minds from questions of authenticity. There is a reason that Jewish children are not permitted to ask questions about the deeper meanings of the biblical stories until they have matured to adulthood.

But for adults and others who make meaning from within more advanced stages of development, limiting our understanding of the mystery of God to the simplistic reading of the biblical text is its own dishonesty. Biblical stories are meant to convey meaning not measurements, invitations rather than specifications, the drama of the Divine more so than data and dates.

Take the book(s) of Kings. Throughout this collection of stories the reader is instructed to look for the factual data elsewhere. The biblical collection of stories in First and Second Kings is intended to be theology and interpretation, not statistics. (see 1 Kings 14:19; 1 Kings 16:14, 20; 2 Kings 1:18; 2 Kings 14:28; 15:21)

Those who study the Bible most deeply soon realize that these scriptures don’t tell you what to think as much as they tell you to think. And in the thinking, as Brian McLaren points out in his chapter in We Make the Road by Walking, we are invited into the interpretive community which continues, even now, to be actors AND authors of the story of God and the Gospel of Jesus.

It is no accident that church consultants often begin their work with a church that is in conflict by asking them to tell the story of how they came to be a church. Because often the way we tell our story is a commentary on the way we see our God.

Our scripture text assigned in this chapter are chosen to show how the words, images, and patterns of the storytelling itself help to emphasize that the scripture (God’s Word) is trying to communicate within. First is the story of the transfer of power, authority, and leadership from the prophet Elijah to his disciple Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-15) and the second is the story of the transfer of power and marching orders of Jesus to his disciples (Acts 1:1-11).

In both cases the disciples are left with a choice: Either they could remain stuck, longingly looking into the heavens for their savior to return, or engages in the mission in their leader’s place. In both cases, the faithful disciples closed one chapter of the story and began writing their own. So should we.

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