Thursday, November 16, 2006


It is all the question of story.
We are in trouble just now
because we are in between stories
--Thomas Berry.

BuildingSpiritual Community
(It’s the story that counts)
Delivered at a clergy conference
Louisville, June, 2000
Paschal Baute

One of our problems today is that our theology has become so focussed on words, that it has largely betrayed the power of the Word (in its original Aramaic, dabbar, meaning creative energy), as Matthew Fox noted. In our attempts to reach a rational understanding of mystery, we have often lost sight of the story which sustains and nourishes theological discourse. We have neglected the story as story with the result that over centuries we have turned stories into ideological statements, giving literal meaning to something that was never meant to be taken literally. We have forgotten that story is the most dynamic and versatile tool available to us humans for the discovery of meaning and mystery. *

Norman O. Brown once claimed that meaning is not in things but in between, It’s not in the events, nor in objects, nor even in proven discoveries that ultimate truth lies, but in the process of searching, seeking, experimenting, and discovering.

Over time, teachings taken from stories, parables and lives have assumed the ideological proportions of dogma. Then stories that invited wonder and awe and insight, initally offering hope, new life and liberation became millstones, burdens that no longer inspire but instead stifle and stultify. All the major religions today, --and theology in general -- suffer from narrative starvation and privation. Even when the orginal myths are still narrated, they are so couched in rationalisitic, legalistic or devotional framings that inhibit and even prevent the story from being dynamically retold in today’s context.

The entire bible , as well as the sacred texts of other wisdom traditions, is primarily a story, and not a record of facts and events. In a faith context, what brings meaning and integration to experience, facts are secondary, always secondary. . “It is the story (and not the facts) tha grips the imagination, impregnates the heart, and animates the spirit from within, empowering. O.Murchu says it well here:

“Whether or not there was an empty tomb, whether or not any body actually saw the Risen Jesus, is not of primary significance. If through modern archaeological research we were to rediscover the remains of Jesus, thus establishing that he never rose physically from the grave, that discovery would not undermine th faith of a genuine believer. It would create immense doubt and confusion for millions who follow a dogmatic creed rather than a spirituality of the heart. (But It could also be the catalyst for a profound conversion experience.)” p. 114.

Jesus did not preach in any formal sense, nor did he theologize, nor attempt to establish anything like what we have today as church. Jesus told stories, the best remembered of these being parables. These have an archetypal, primordial significance: They are not just ordinary stories. In fact, there is no such thing as an “ordinary” story, because none of us are ordinary. The parables belong to a vein of prophetic discourse aiming to disturb and challenge the hearers, and to motivate them to move into a very different way of envisioning the world and themselves.

Bausch (1984) delineates the marks of the New Testament parables. They uncover:
our competitiveness and envy & invite us to brotherhood and sisterhood instead.
our wrong centering and invite us to a right centering
our need to hoard and exclude and invite us to share and include.
our assumptions and challenge us to turn them around
our timidity and invite us to risk all for the sake of God’s Reign
our self-centered despair and distrust and invite us to hope.

What is the role of Church in all of this? Jesus showed little concern for church and no concern whatever for its organization, as “church” is mentioned only once in the four Gospels, in a single text whose historicity is doubtful. Church is meant, we suggest, to be the community that continues the stories, both the servant and the herald of the exciting news of the New Reign of God in the world now. The main function of church is to gather the people and tell the stories that proclaim the Good News. All else is secondary. That includes ritual, tradition, orthodoxy, and canon law.

But Christian churches today have betrayed the reason for their existence. The major crisis facing the churches is not the drop in numbers, failure to organize, insufficient programs, shortage of ordained clergy, or lack of financial support. The major problem is that they have lost touch with the Reign of God agenda, that is, they no longer tell the stories in a way that speaks to the modern heart and mind. Churches, I suggest, have lost their souls. They have forgotten that the Spirit calls each one from within, singularly, usually by a story or sharing often through some personal crisis. The institutional churches instead try to fit people into ideologies, rituals, programs, traditions, or literal interpretations with no understanding that context influences everything. Most all churches today are inward looking, concerned with what is deemed necessary for their survival, and sometimes or too frequently what is necessary for the survival of the current power structures.

So far astray are most churches that any group that meets in order to tell the stories, even to tell their own stories, in a setting where personal faith is valued, is likely to be more engaged spiritually, more encouraged, more accepted, more deeply moved, with more incentive to personal change than in an hour of preaching or Eucharistic celebration. For example, there is usually far more spirituality in a 12th step meeting than occurs in most religious services. Without vulnerability, personal change is unlikely. “Church” or the realization of the Reign of God already amongst us, happens whenever there is this kind of vulnerable sharing, this kind of listening to the uniqueness of Another’s journey. Whenever we respond to each other in a caring way, “ministry” happens, inadvertent ministry, the priestliness of us all is affirmed, and the Story of this mystery we call Emmanuel is implicitly recognized and welcomed. And we are continuing the stories...Note here that hospitality to the Stranger is one of the most common threads of all Wisdom traditions.

*Note: Most of these comments find their origin or inspiration in a new book by Diarmuid O’Murchu, entitled Quantum Theology, (Spiritual implications of the New Physics) New York, Crossroads, 1997. This brief paper is only for your personal use and permission is not given for reproduction for anyone else. Thank you! Paschal Baute. By the way, what we have done simply for seventeen years in the Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky is to gather the people and tell the stories, and listen well to the amazing diversities and graces of the journeys..

Stories are designed to force us to consider possibilities
Stories hint that our taken-for-granted daily realities may,
in fact, be fraught with surprise. --William J. Bausch

Whenever the hierarchy decides to trust the laity,
to recognize its true purpose
as the empowering of the laity,
the church will experience a second Springtime
that will dwarf the first Pentecost.
--Yves Congar

Now I will tell you a story......


Post a Comment

<< Home