Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Autobiographically Annoying

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, … When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
John 20:20-22

Perusing my posts, from this year and years past, I see that they are more self-focused than I’d like them to be. They become a bit whiny at times; or, at least, I feel they might come across that way. I judge this to be negative because most of the blogs I read are more instructional. I compare myself to these other blogs, say to myself, “do this,” and then find myself missing a deadline.

It is just not in me. Some would say, "Get better at it!" Ok, fair point. Except that I am not sure this is actually a shortcoming. It is a personality; a style of mine. I can continue to try and be a person I am not; or, I can accept that I am who I am, that I work the way I work, and that God would rather I stop focusing on what that other fellow is doing and FOLLOW HIM as ME.

What does it mean to follow Jesus as me? Well, for starters, it means to live by the autobiographical account and to die by the autobiographical account. It means to live by extemporaneous speaking/writing and to die by it! Yes, it will get old, and there are those who don’t like it. On the other hand, I’d be really bad without it, and it is the method of communicating I have naturally fostered ever since I became a believer. Probably even before that. I tell my story. I hope others will tell theirs.

The focus of my writing and my preaching is on what I might call the human condition. I’m not so interested in giving instructional “how to” messages as I am in considering who God is, who we are, and what God has done and is willing to do in our lives. I want to examine why there is a problem more than I want to tell you how to solve the problem.

Beyond this focus, I find that I gravitate to stories. I like to tell stories and I like to hear them, but I also think in the context of stories. When someone tells me an experience or struggle they are facing, I often have different stories pop into my head that seem similar or that might shed some light on things. I can’t help but think people must tire of me relating a movie plot or scene to their lives because of some lesson or connection that I feel can be drawn out of it for them. Well, so be it! To me, stories are a great way to convey instruction, to get at the heart of the matter in our hearts.

Maybe the best way to understand both my focus and my mode is that I am thinking more about why than how. Sure, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, but why are we skinning it? An instruction manual will tell you how to use the knife and how to pull the hide down; but a story about the cat and the person with the knife will tell you why.

Stories are all about motivation. Even a story that is focused on the how of a situation is driven by the why. Take “Remember the Titans” for example. Here you have the story of a football team that had a perfect season in the 70s. The how of the story is so anticlimactic that the moviemakers had to create false storylines for drama and rearrange the season to make the final game actually suspenseful.

In the best scene, the assistant coach is watching the refs call the game so that the Titans will lose, thereby getting rid of the head coach and putting him back in charge. He tells the refs to stop, and then goes into action when they rebuff him. In a rousing speech, he tells his defense to not give up one more yard.

The rest of the game is a montage of hits. How the Titans defeated their opponent and the refs doesn’t matter; why they did has already been settled. His decision, his change, his attitude makes every one of those hits mean something. Especially by the end, when the Titans have won but he is informed that he won’t be voted into the Virginia High School Hall of Fame (something that didn’t even exist back then).

We all need instruction manuals and we need someone to tell us the best way to do a task from time to time. I’ve got nothing against instruction manuals, and even own a few on the shelves of my home and office. But they don’t do the same job as a story. Even the ones written as if to be stories, like Who Moved My Cheese, come off as awful because they are really instruction manuals at heart. But, I’ve also got some good stories that happen to have a lot of instruction for life. Good stories can do that.

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.” -  C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy.

When it comes to stories, there is a question about which stories we can share. Personally, I don’t feel that I have a right to tell another person’s story. I suppose I can tell a public story, like sharing about “Remember the Titans,” but it still comes through my lense or filter. Most of my sermons are God’s word filtered through the lens of my heart, mind, and gut. It is filtered through my personality, my day, my current attitude. The same is true for every pastor or writer, I believe. By filtering it through me, it becomes my story to a certain degree. I can tell my story.

I don’t have anyone else’s filter, and it wouldn’t be honest to use their filter anyway. Now, I do know parts of other people’s stories, and I’m free to share some of them because the owner has given me that freedom. Most, though, are not mine to share. They are great stories, stories that could benefit other people, but they are not mine. I don’t have a right to tell them. The only stories I have a right to tell are my own.

So, I go on giving autobiographical stories. It is fitting; it is the way I work best. There are many times I wish I was different, but the truth is that I don’t. Not really. I don’t want to tell a group of people to do A, B, C. I want to share my story and to let the story have its effect in each person as is appropriate for them. That is what I desire to achieve.

I just hope I don’t do it in a whiny voice.

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