It was the same story again. I have heard it many times before, but I must admit, I never tire of it.
Yesterday, our pastor, once again, told the story of how, in the 1920’s, our church began on the losing end of a poker game. Yep, you read that right. Our church started with a losing hand of poker. Not only that, the man had bet his wife. Yep, your read that right too. He had bet his wife…and lost. And that crazy incident was part of the way God began our church. (You can read more about this amazing story here.)
I love that my church tells and retells this almost unbelievable story because it reveals something in terms of what we believe about God and ourselves. As the story unfolds, we chuckle at the juxtaposition of a poker game as the foundation for a church. We are reminded that “only God could redeem something this messed up.” By telling this story, we stand as spiritual descendants of these crazy, messed up people and acknowledge that this is not only their story, but part of our story as well. We continue to be amazed that God loves broken people and not only desires to be in relationship with them, but can also use people who are that messed up.
It is good to tell and retell stories. As mentioned previously in other posts, stories have the power to shape our identity. Stories can be transformative, and they also remind us of truth. If stories can be that powerful, what does this mean for the stories we tell and retell ourselves over and over and over again? What do these stories reveal about who we are, what we believe, value and desire, and what we might fear? When I go back to these stories time and time again, what is so important or profound in the stories that I am trying to connect to or make sense of?
The Israelites often told stories over and over again. The Psalmist tells us:
I will speak using stories.
I will tell things that have been secret since long ago.
We have heard them and know them.
Our fathers told them to us.
We will not keep them from our children.
We will tell those who come later
about the praises of the Lord.
We will tell about his power
and the miracles he has done. (Psalm 78: 2-4, ICB)
Faithful Jews today still start each Passover Seder by retelling themselves the story of their ancestor’s exodus from Egypt. The youngest child asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” By recounting this story, they remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and their God not only delivered them but did it with amazing wonders and plagues.
So what story do I tell myself over and over again? With this question in mind, I did a little exercise, asking myself what are my three favorite fictional stories I keep going back to? Upon reflection, I realized these stories tell me something about myself. I desire a righteous world where good triumphs over evil (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling). I yearn for a community that loves people and is willing to enter in even if I shut the door on them (A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman). I hope that I grow from past mistakes, and the consequences of those mistakes can be amended (Persuasion by Jane Austen).
We all have stories we tell ourselves over and over again. Family stories. Faith stories. Stories of great trials and stories of profound deliverance. We read and reread these stories because they reveal a part of who we are and what is important to us. The Jewish people retell the stories of deliverance to be reminded of a great and sovereign God who can deliver them from their struggle. My church tells the story of broken, messed-up people and a gracious, loving God who can redeem anything. I reread a story to be reminded that in the end, sin and death will ultimately be overcome.