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"What's Your Story?"

By Jonathan Riedel,
Newaygo United Church of Christ

“I love to tell the story/’Twill be my theme in glory/To tell the old, old story/Of Jesus and his love.” - Katherine Hankey

I am, by nature, a story-teller.  If you were to place an family photo album in front of me and offer to leaf through it while I told you about each picture, I suspect we wouldn’t get through the whole book in less than two to three hours.  I can find a story in every snapshot, in every scene.  The Russian author Leo Tolstoi once remarked that human beings can survive anything they can tell a story about and I know that to be true. I have worked through the deepest pain, the most treacherous problems, and the annoying dilemmas of my life by picking through their meanings and then constructing some sort of narrative.   My life is held together by the stories I have been told and by the story I, in turn, have shared with others.

I also know that my storytelling is not a private venture.   My tales connect with those of my family, with those of my country, and with those who share my culture and education.  Their morals, patterns, variations, and conundrums inform how I understand my own life, how I convey what I believe my life to mean.  As I travel the paths of my stories, I find my common ground with all other human beings.  Through them I begin to understand their joys, sorrows, angers, and astonishments.  I also believe that if I travel down their turns and twists long enough I will find my way to God.

At the bottom of my life is God, the God I discovered through church worship, family prayer, and careful reading of the Bible.  As a child, I enjoyed thumbing through my picture bible.  When I was older, I convinced some of the kids I knew to play-act our way through the stories of David, Saul, Moses, and Abraham.  I have found myself writing puppet plays based on Jonah and Noah.   As I reflect, it does not surprise me that I found my way into the ministry.  The stories I first encountered in that picture bible have worked their way into my life-into how I approach moral questions, into how I solve the problems I have faced.  In the end, it is through those stories that I know what I know about God.

But there’s more-what I know about God comes through the stories of Jesus.  His ways of healing, of self-giving sacrifice, of non-violence, of siding with the underdog, of total reliance on God’s grace, and of resurrection have called into question some of what I used to value, have prompted me to ask hard questions, and have encouraged me to be more open to how God really works.  Those stories are a running commentary on my life, a path-finder when I find myself off-track, and a source of hope when I find the ugliness, the murder, the disposability of this world too overwhelming.  Even in my darkest moments, the old, old story of Jesus and his love (lines from my favorite hymn) urge me to get up and start anew.

Why? Because I know I have to make a choice.  I can settle for despair or I can choose hope.  I can resign myself to death or I can trust resurrection.   I can believe in power games and endless war or I can work for world where peace and cooperation are possible.  Simply put, I can give up and give in or I can struggle for the love, equality, and possibility that comes through the grace of God.  Though I falter from time to time, I choose to hang onto the story because it makes a difference which story I hang onto.  It makes a difference to me and it makes a difference to God. 

It also makes a difference which story you hang onto as well.

So what’s your story?







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