Post Author: Casey Wait Fitzgerald
I am in a hallway buzzing with energy after a day filled with amazing stories and lectures at the Network of Biblical Storytellers annual Festival Gathering. I can’t recall why or how it happened, but I find myself with one of the wonderful scholars associated with the network—a woman I have only seen lecture, but never really met formally in person. I somehow find myself recounting a particularly raw and painful story from my ministry. This woman reaches out her hand, places it on my shoulder, and gently says, “μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.”
I stare blankly…I would call my Greek “rusty,” but that might be overstating how well I knew it in the first place. Finally, she translates: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:10). I flush because somehow this personal story has erupted from me to this stranger (and perhaps a little because I wish remembered Greek…at all). I blot the tears from my eyes, trying to keep my composure, but it proves difficult. It is 9 pm after a very full day and I am exhausted.
I give in and let myself be cared for—she has seen me, and met my own tale with God’s story. She is just one of many over the next few days who helps to restore me. Or, as I recently read, re-stories me.
When you spend your day hearing and telling the stories of God, it is hard not to be vulnerable—it is surprisingly easy to share not just stories from scripture, but the stories of one’s own life. It is remarkable to be a in a space with mostly strangers and to have a sense that this community is YOUR community. It is a testimony to the fact that something transcendent happens when people begin to share the stories of God.
I have only been a member of the Network of Biblical Storytellers for a few years, but the group has deepened my understanding of what can happen when people are gathered around the story of God. Here are just a few of the encounters I had at our last Festival Gathering:
• Folks boldly step onto the “stage” and tell the stories of God with deep and abiding love—making them their own;
• People from many denominations and theological backgrounds struggle in workshops with what it means to tell the more challenging texts;
• Many gather to explore how to do this ancient practice of storytelling in the digital age and seek out the wisdom of both the young and less young in doing so;
• A young woman from a church that does not allow for women’s ordination sits at the table with a bunch of female pastors, none of whom have ever met, and describes her love of liturgy-writing and her turmoil in balancing her call to family, love of her church, and burgeoning call into ministry—it is a holy space for us all;
• We hear of storytelling in prison ministry, in foreign countries with oral-based cultures, in outdoor churches where the “least of these” come to gather, with children and youth—and we challenge ourselves to take the stories even further;
• We play, we laugh, we cry, we tell…a lot.
I am gathered not with my fellow elders of the PC(USA)—not even primarily with pastors—I am gathered with people from many, many Christian (and a few non-Christian) backgrounds: stay-at-home-parents, farmers, pastors, a rabbi, Catholics, immigrants, artists, business men and women, professors—with people from every walk of life. During those three days, the people gathered become my cloud—my mentors, my friends, my confidants, my provokers, my champions. I am re-storied: my own stories are transformed in light of God’s stories. These brothers and sisters are not just giving me the skills and convictions to tell the stories of God, they are witnesses to our mutual transformation, our re-storying through sharing God’s story.
The word-made-flesh holds this community together—and I do believe that every time we are gathered in story Christ dwells among us, full of grace and truth. A great cloud of witnesses, indeed.
“Everybody has a home team: It’s the people you call when you get a flat tire or when something terrible happens. It’s the people who, near or far, know everything that’s wrong with you and love you anyways. These are the ones who tell you their secrets, who get themselves a glass of water without asking when they’re at your house. These are the people who cry when you cry. These are your people, your middle-of-the-night, no-matter-what people.”
― Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way
(Image used with permission from Creative Commons)