Big story, small story.

“So, what’s your story?”

“I was diagnosed when I was thirtee-“

“No, no your real story.”

“I am quite un-extraordinary.”

“I reject that out of hand.”

John Green’s novel “The Fault in Our Stars” is – so I am told – a moving and beautiful story. The above quote isn’t quite from the book: it’s from the movie trailer released a couple of weeks ago. Have a look here. I haven’t read it yet (it’s close to the top of my pile), so I  know only the broad sketches of the story, and in some sense it is uncomplicated: two teenagers, both suffering from cancer, fall in love. This interaction touches on a significant aspect of  The Fault in Our Stars: it engages with people and their stories beyond the obvious questions that everybody asks. Augustus, as he stares at Hazel and asks for her story, wants to know who she really is. He isn’t on about her disease, but about her.

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As I have been writing about the importance of stories, I found this fascinating. Augustus here tells us something that the Christian would do well to heed – your story is important. Hazel’s cancer story is not her whole story. If stories are important in understanding and identity, then how our personal story fits in with the stories of other Christians is important. More fundamentally, what is the story of God? Our faith is built upon stories, and I would say it is impossible to be a Christian without some concept of the story of God and humanity. This works itself out in a few ways.

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Believing stories

It’s hot, and the three men are tired. Two of them are men, anyway. The third is much younger, yet he has seen a harder time than many would in their lifetime. He has just finished telling his story. The others are incredulous. Surely this tale cannot be real.

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[Before I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that this post follows this one from a few days ago. I’ve been thinking about stories and their significance recently, and some of those reflections are making their way into blog posts. These first two are a tad more abstract. The next one, maybe two, will hopefully bring it back to the real world. Basically the point of the first post was that stories are powerful and have real impact on those who engage with them. Stories are an essential tool of making sense of information. Because of this, it helps us make sense of events, history, and our own experiences and identity. The power of stories can be anything from the enthralling tales in Tolkien’s fantasy to didactic myths and fables to singing a story in song. Even a simple metaphor with descriptive language could be seen as use of story to illuminate a more abstract idea (“Reaching new heights like a bird in a spaceship”). Now you’re up to speed – read on!]

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Made of Stories

Very little has stuck with me from my 18 months of Communications and Journalism. Snippets about newsworthiness, communication theory, feature writing and so on come back every now and then. One lecture, however, sticks in my head. It was the first lecture in a subject for my Journalism major, called “Storytelling, Narrative and Features.” Well-known journalist David Dale came in and set out telling us about the story of stories. What followed was arguably the most interesting lecture. David told of Chaucer, a storyteller paid in wine. He outlined how good feature journalism was doing the same as fiction: gathering ideas, doing detailed research and then telling a story. It’s about virtual reality – creating the scene that can’t be immediately seen, or created by others. The characters tell the story. David suggested that despite the common motif, storytelling may be the world’s oldest profession: perhaps some primitive man offered to sacrifice a piece of his dinner to hear his neighbour tell the tale of his hunting that day. Regardless, a good story enthrals the audience. What’s more, David managed to do that as he spoke – the story of stories was engaging, and created in us a high view of the task ahead of us.

There’s something powerful in a good story. Continue reading

On Boggarts

Consider your boggart and much can be learned.

There’s an office, dim and somewhat dusty. Its occupant is often absent, and takes little care of his space. He’s there now, though, and there’s someone with him: a youth, there to learn. He stands, facing the drawer in the filing cabinet. It’s time. Lupin opens the cabinet. The boggart is out. It’s a dark shape: large, hooded, menacing. Gliding. This is what Harry is here for: he’s here to face his fear – the dementor.

There’s something powerful and revealing about fear. Despite the comical situations in Lupin’s boggart classes, the boggart touches on something profound it’s about being brought up against your fear.

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No Restraint – MYC Musing #2

What would you sacrifice for the king who died?

It’s so easy to be ashamed of our faith, or to want to conceal it. Maybe we want to share it, but we have boundaries: we will share it on these days, or with this person, or when we don’t have assignments to do. At MYC, the first talk was on the first half of Matthew 26. There are a bunch of things that I’m reflecting on, but one big one was this: how much do I value Jesus? When it comes down to it, value is worked out by how much you will sacrifice for something. It’s the principle behind any form of economy, or even any relationship. What you prioritise shows your values. What you trade in shows what you value.

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him,‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

When the woman comes up and pours the perfume out, she shocks the disciples, but gains the acclamation of Jesus. She gets that serving the poor is important, but honouring the King who became poor for our sake is our first priority. Her gesture is costly: Jesus is valuable to her, and she doesn’t let the scorn or rebuke of others hold her back.

The next scene, however, paints a stark contrast. Judas was the treasurer, and it seems to be him who objects to the “wasted” money (see John 12 – it may well be the same incident). He seeks out the Jewish leaders, and strikes a deal to sell out Jesus. 30 pieces of silver. It’s not just significantly less than the woman’s perfume would cost, but a conceptually degrading amount: the amount paid for the death of a slave. What a contrast  to the royal  honour poured out by the woman!

Next is Jesus sharing a meal with his disciples once more. He drops a clanger: hey guys, one of you is going to betray me! To share a meal was a symbol of trust and fellowship.  Judas was right in with them, and his betrayal is big. Judas seems to be in it for what he could gain (see John 12 again: he’s a bit of a penny pincher), and he saw no gains in being the disciple of a dead man. Judas massively undervalues Jesus: he sells him short. His rebuke of the woman’s gesture toward Jesus is seen in light of his own cheap betrayal.

The dichotomy is not just in how they treat Jesus, but in the consequences of their attitude. The woman is to be remembered all around the world, as the gospel is preached. Jesus was true to his word on this. Judas, on the other hand: “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

Friends, there is much at stake in how we see Jesus. The one who celebrates Jesus is remembered and proclaimed. The one who undervalues Jesus faces an afterlife of of condemnation.

That’s a huge challenge. Jesus is a king who died: it could be easy to feel ashamed. Sitting in a philosophy or science class, do you feel that your faith is a bit of an embarrassment? It is super easy for us to feel frustrated about going to serve God instead of notching up a few more marks in that assignment, or earning some extra dollars. It’s certainly something that I have felt. Often we don’t want to speak up for Jesus, for fear of being tarred with the same brush.

I was really struck that when it comes to Jesus, the proper response has no restraint. Considerations that there is a limit to how much we will give are in line with Judas’ thinking. Will we give things up in thankful sacrifice, or draw the line where our celebration of Christ ends? In this chapter, the juxtaposition of Judas with the woman makes the right attitude clear. What seems like a waste to others (even other disciples!) is never wasted if it is honouring Jesus.

This is always true, but it is certainly an important thing to consider when approaching the Your God mission over the next few weeks. I can’t speak for what God will do through us. What I do know is that I’m going in (and I pray that you will too) with a mind to be like the woman, not like Judas. To have an attitude that if it means I have to give up everything along the way, then that’s what it takes. If doing mission costs me reputation, marks, money, energy, health, whatever, I’m praying that God will help me to make those sacrifices without qualms.

The king has died, and I want to serve our great God proudly, not with shame or restraint. I want to bring it all to the table, and not set limits on what I will give for his mission.

Mission Shy: MYC Musing #1

For the past 5 days, I’ve been on camp. It was the Mid-Year Conference for Mac Uni’s Christian Union. The topic was mission, and we focused on Matthew 26-28. It seems like a lot of people come away with a couple of really clear ideas that stuck in their head. My experience is the opposite: there’s far too much buzzing around my noggin to recall how it all fits together.

There are a few reasons for this: there was a lot of bible in there. It’s hard to keep track of what is where, who says what.  A second factor is that we tackled things expositively as Dan and Scott walked us through Matthew, and systematically with Kamal. Each speaker had a distinctly different style of delivery.

These things accounted for, there is a massive amount of material, encouragement and rebuke to churn through and meditate upon. Partly for the sake of sharing, and partly to help myself work through this, I’m going to be whacking some reflection blogs up in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully this will also help in getting in the right mindset for the Your God mission over the next few weeks. Continue reading

Catching?

Have a watch of this video. It’s awesome.

I don’t know what he is saying, but he’s just so stoked. His name is Aleksander Gamme, and he’s [i.e. was] down in Antarctica, on a south pole expedition. He’s left food caches along the way, but not recorded what is in each. To come across some trashy, tasty food after 86 days of healthy stuff just makes him lose it. So much stoke.

The reason I blogged it is this: It just made me stoked as well. That’s the premise behind this whole post. If it doesn’t have the same effect on others, then I’m a whacko and the following is pretty baseless. Anyhow, I’ve chucked together a few disparate musings. Hopefully it will give you some thoughts to chew on. Proceed. Continue reading