Telling Old Stories, Again and Again

Spool of old thread. Image via TAGSTOCK1/

Spool of old thread. Image via TAGSTOCK1/

At a church workshop last week, I set aside my carefully planned teaching and just let people talk.

It became clear that everyone had an old story they needed to tell. Until it was heard, no one in the room could or would move on to thinking about the future. And even when it was heard, half of them would keep cycling back to the old story.

I sensed that, for some, the old story contained an identity, in the sense of “this story is who I am.” I need to keep telling this story so that you know me. Until I am sure you’ve heard it, know me, and accept me, I can’t stop.

For some, the old story was the burden on their back, the cloud over their heads. This story explains why I fall short, seem hesitant or even paralyzed. If you know my story, maybe you can accept me and forgive me.

For some, the old story was the safe place, the known that kept the scary unknown at bay. As long as I keep telling this story and presenting the me that existed yesterday, I don’t have to contemplate the ways I am changing and the tomorrow that worries me.

It was like a case study in the long-ago classic, “I’m OK — You’re OK.” People wanted to know they were OK — acceptable and maybe someday even loved.

I think back to a recent lunch with the rector of the local Episcopal church, where I kept peeling the onion, telling her one thing about myself and then, if she accepted that, telling her something more. She was doing the same. If we know each other and still accept each other, then we can be in relationship.

Men: Take a Stand to End Gender-Based Violence

Male and female symbols. Image via Babii Nadiia /

The roots of violence against women lie in gender inequality and the abuse of power, which in turn shapes our understanding of masculinity and femininity. What does it mean to be a man or woman in the 21st century? Many Christian authors argue that men should demonstrate leadership and competitiveness, often at the expense of women. Instead, we need to emphasize understandings of masculinity that recognize the diversity of men and allow space for women to also exercise leadership and fulfill their potential.

For Christians, our most important model of masculinity is that of Jesus Christ. As a leader and a compelling speaker and debater, Jesus demonstrated traditional masculine characteristics in his era. His miraculous powers put him in a unique position of authority. And yet he chose to live as a servant, to be nonviolent and to respect women, including relying on them for financial support. His life shows us that:

  • all men and women are worthy of respect;
  • masculinity does not need to be characterized by violence; and
  • power should not be abused, but used in the service of others.

Perceiving Reality Differently: #Dressgate and the Church

Photo via swiker / tumblr

Photo via swiker / tumblr

If you thought I was going to be one of those bloggers who was above using the recent viral #dressgate as blog fodder, you would be wrong. In fact, as soon as the dress started trending, I knew I would be writing about it because it so perfectly encapsulates my message.

By now you have seen the dress, and gone through the stages of denial, bewilderment, and acceptance of how your perception of color differs from the next person. You may have even read The Science of Why No One Agrees on the Color of This Dress. But you may not yet have had a faith writer exegete the profound spiritual significance of the dress. Do not fear, I am here to deliver. Below is a simple Christian Guide to #Dressgate:

A. If you see blue/black: you are a solid Christian. Like a rock, you are steadfast and unchanging. Because rocks are often black.

B. If you see white/gold: we all know only true Christians can see white/gold, as gold signifies the color which paves the streets of heaven, and white, the color of angel’s robes.

C. If you see BOTH colors: you are one of those progressive, liberal, hippie types who is so politically correct you can’t even exclude a color set of a dress.

D. If you can only see one set of colors, but you’re so convinced you can trick your brain into seeing the other that you will spend an entire span of family dinner twitching your face, blinking and winking furiously, twisting your head at ridiculous angles at the photo, then you are just my husband.

I’m C, of course. The freaky dress does crazy mental magic on my brain, switching colors on me spontaneously, forcing me to existentially question every life decision I have ever made with my faulty, cognitive synapses.

And I’m kidding. Please, don’t be sending me hate mail about the true Christian thing, I’m kidding.

The Sacrifice of Covenant Relationship

Photo via jsp /

Biblical Ten Commandments inscribed on stone tablets in the Paleo-hebrew script. Photo via jsp /

On any given Saturday, people join Habitat for Humanity teams and commit to work to help eradicate poverty housing.  The individual volunteers give of their time, energy and physical ability because they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  Similarly, in the HBO TV drama “Game of Thrones,” individuals from the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos volunteer to serve as The Night’s Watch.  Members of The Night’s Watch live as a self-sufficient military order that defends the Wall that protects the Seven Kingdoms and patrols the Haunted Forest.  The Night’s Watch oath details the sacrifice of its members:

"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."

Although the members of The Night’s Watch are fictitious, they exist in a recognizable bond – a commitment that theologians call a covenant relationship. 

In the Book of Exodus, readers find the beginnings of the formalized covenant relationship between the Israelites and their god. 

Letting Go—And Its Complications

FORGIVENESS IS wholeness, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Anglican minister Rev. Mpho Tutu, write in their newest collaboration,The Book of Forgiving. Scientific research shows that forgiveness has the power to transform us in spiritual, emotional, and even physical ways. That evidence is paired with the Tutus’ collective experience in counseling, studying, and teaching and their personal stories about the difficulty of forgiving. Archbishop Tutu writes about learning to forgive his abusive father. Mpho, who writes about learning to forgive the man who murdered her housekeeper in her home, is pursuing a PhD in the topic of forgiveness.

The book lays out some simple but critical truths: Everyone can be forgiven. Everyone deserves forgiveness. You must be willing to forgive. Forgiveness is not a weakness, nor a luxury. Forgiving others is a way to practice forgiving yourself. Through forgiveness, we all become whole again. Unconditional forgiveness is an act of grace that frees all parties from further indignity, and from self-blame and corrosive hatred.

The path to forgiveness seems simple enough when you can navigate it in four easy-to-follow steps: Tell the story. Name the hurt. Grant forgiveness. Renew or release the relationship. The path is also—sorry—a bit pedestrian. That doesn’t mean the route map isn’t useful. But the book will be most applicable if you have struggled to forgive or feel that even contemplating forgiveness is an impossible burden weighing heavy on your heart and soul. If you’re carrying a load you can’t seem to gracefully shrug off or leave by the side of the road, the Tutus can help you chart the course.

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Recovering Creatureliness

The following reflection is a sidebar for "A Watershed Moment" by Ched Myers.—The Editors

I began to know my watershed—the James River in Virginia—when I realized that recovering “creatureliness” is at the core of our discipleship. I learned that my life is utterly dependent upon relationships with countless others, including microscopic organisms in the soil. It’s this grand web of mutuality that forms our fundamental context. Watershed discipleship is contextual discipleship. If we seek to follow Jesus in context, nothing is more contextual than a watershed.

Participating in God’s action to restore the world requires us to have a place. Churches have the capacity to become communities of alternative economic and political practice, embodiment, and imagination. To become communities of justice and reconciliation, we need to embrace the simple disciplines of table fellowship, relationship to water, growing food, and ecological literacy. That’s the path of watershed discipleship.

Chris Grataski, founder of Wild Oak Ecological Design, is a permaculture educator and designer living in central Virginia.

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Pope Francis Tells Atheists to ‘Obey Their Conscience’

Once again breaking with traditional Vatican protocol, Pope Francis on Wednesday penned a long letter to the Italian liberal daily La Repubblica to affirm that an “open dialogue free of prejudices” between Christians and atheists is “necessary and precious.”

Francis’ front-page letter was a response to two open letters published in previous months by Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica and an avowed atheist.

The pope’s letter is especially notable for its open and honest assessment of the spiritual state of nonbelievers. And for an institution that long claimed sole jurisdiction on matters of salvation, Francis seems to open the door to the idea that notions of sin, conscience and forgiveness are not the exclusive domain of the Catholic Church.