Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Learning to Live in God's Story

I've recently started re-reading Jerome Berryman's The Complete Guide to Godly Play. A few years ago, we tried introducing the children's formation program here at Christ Church with "The Faces of Easter." One of our members put together a beautiful calendar of the church year based on the Godly Play model that still hangs in the Sunday School room. We cleaned out the shelves to make "Godly Play space" and created the materials for a few additional lessons about Eucharist and the Apostles ourselves.

Then we hit a brick wall. No, our teachers didn't want to spend the resources, energy, or time to attend a Godly Play training. Nor did they see us spending the money on the materials needed to round out a complete year of lessons. And Godly Play, sadly, died at Christ Church just after germinating. "The Faces of Easter" barely lasted another year. The cards about the Eucharist came out occasionally if I asked, but like the seeds in the parable of the sower, they fell on rocky soil. No roots were put down, and the hot sun of our shared story as a congregation burned the tender shoots.

Our shared story at Christ Church is about scarcity -- it's about immigrants who came to this country and pieced lives together out of next to nothing. It's about the congregation being shut down during World War II as our members were largely shipped inland to be incarcerated by the United States government in the name of security. It's about returning after the war and struggling with the diocese and the greater Church to reconstitute a church family when so many had gone never to return. It's been about trying to forge an identity in the midst of a neighborhood that is very different from our little congregation. It's been about preserving tradition in the face of a slowly declining membership and watching many of our children grow up and leave the area. It's been about being unsure of when our original mission, rooted in 1895 and turn-of-the-twentieth-century immigration from Japan, needs to be re-invented. . .or be declared a success and put to rest.

We've lived out of this painful story for so long, introducing Godly Play seemed like introducing a foreign language. It may well have been, theologically speaking.

But Godly Play represents more than just an innovative program for a struggling Sunday school. It represents re-introducing the Gospel and the rich stories of our tradition as Christians. It represents inviting us back into the most important story of all: God's story.

And God's story has something profound to say to our story of Christ Church. The story of God's people is full of exile, disenchantment, poverty, faithlessness, and even stubborn resistance to liberation. God's story is about a God who responds to all of these instruments of death with a bold gift of new life. God promises our spiritual ancestors many descendants in the midst of the deserts of sand and old age. God liberates a people enslaved. God forges covenant with a stubborn and wayward community -- bound to fail God, perhaps; but God refuses to fail them. And God sends a Messiah, the Christ, who embodies the divine in the human person, healing the great cosmic rifts we all suffer from and beckoning us home. In Jesus Christ, God brings the marginalized back into the fold, heals the sick, and raises the dead. He proclaims good news to the poor and justice for a people, poor and rich alike, seeking the truth and a new way of life in God. And Christ, crucified and risen, finally breaks the bonds of death for a world in desperate need to be free.

God's story tells us we no longer have to live in fear or clutch habitually at our scarce resources. God's story tells us we are blessed with abundant new life, if only we will dare share our blessings and then partake. In our baptism and our breaking of the bread, Christ wants God's story to be our new story, filled with blessing, hope, and new life.

The future of Christ Church largely depends on our willingness to embrace, as Christians, the Easter message of this new story. It depends on our agreeing to engage God's story as the answer to our story, to live into God's great response of abundance and freedom to our history of scarcity and enslavement. And God's story promises to breathe into this community abundance, hope, joy, and a growing sense of Resurrection occurring in our midst.

Living in God's story, though, is tough. It requires letting go. It demands deep prayer and a commitment to community. It invites us to wonder about the mystery of God's love for us, rather than live in our set, cut-and-dried answers. And it asks for much more than a little attention. God's story asks for our entire lives -- our whole lives that Christ desires to make anew. This is the spiritual quest for our community and our call to pilgrimage. My hope is that we will find the strength to take a next step on this journey this Eastertide.

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