My understanding of this Mark is that it has a multi-faceted meaning, beyond knowing Bible stories and being able to use them in my preaching. Engaging in sacred traditions encompasses more than knowing enough Church history to know the Church year and why we worship the way we do. Engaging in sacred stories and traditions give us contexts to understand who and whose we are. But our stories and traditions also point us to question, express anger and fear, to denounce–as well as to love. The arc of history may bend toward justice, but our sacred Scriptures have been used to suppress and obstruct as to invite and free. Our engagement means a that we do fearless inventories of ourselves as God’s people and hear God’s still speaking voice. The stories and traditions are there to illustrate grace and open us to the possibility of revelation. They give the Church something to organize around as we go about connecting the world to the presence of the Christ. They are the wallpaper of the Kin-dom of God.
I see myself in this mark as a teller, listener, and writer of stories. If you really want to connect with people, want people to dialogue with one another, if you can get them to tell–whatever it is they need to tell–you are off to a good start. During my CPE training, I was jittery at first when I would reach out to provide a spiritual health check on a patient, but I learned to ask them to tell me something about themselves. I would ask them a question or comment on something they said. I usually didn’t have to say much more. I learned that after they told some of their story, it was very easy for me to ask if they would like to pray together. They almost always did. By that time, we were connected to each other as humans. I was able to find common language–regardless of our cultural or religious backgrounds, to connect us both to God in prayer.
I have selected the following artifacts to demonstrate my engagement with this Mark:
- Psalms Project
- Psalms Presentation
- Preaching Links
- CPE Life Story
- Christian Traditions Assignments
- Worship Planning Assignment LGBTQ
I am a writer. I communicate best by telling stories. So, in a way, stories have always been sacred to me. Now their sacredness takes on new meaning, as I come to understand their centrality to Christian witness, and in my case, to my role as an ordained minister. Sacred stories and traditions are in my charge. I have a responsibility to hold them and to bring them to life as part of my call. I realize as I write to the Marks from contexts of my early faith, sacred stories of the Church are intertwined with all the stories of my life.
When I was a child, my mother taught our Sunday School class. I remember the materials very well. Each week, we had a lesson from the Old or New Testament series, and as our teacher told the story, she would place the characters on the flannel board. We had attendance stickers that we proudly displayed on a Bible story chart and a coloring sheet to accompany each lesson. Every summer we had Vacation Bible School. I remember Mother busily preparing materials. And I can still taste the little snack cookies wrapped neatly in a napkin, served with red Koolaid. We also had mid-week Bible Study, too, on Wednesday nights. Would you like to know what night of the week CBS showed its stop-motion Christmas specials and cartoons, like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas? It was Wednesday—I know because that was the night we went to church, and my parents would not let me stay home and watch.
Sacred stories are deeply embedded in the songs I grew up loving. “Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. I love to tell the story because I know tis true.” And then there were the blood songs, foot stompers that always sound a bit like football fight songs. Power In the Blood. Jesus Paid It All, and Are You Washed In the Blood?, which has my favorite line: “Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?” I can tell you the exact line I cry at in Just As I Am: “Now, to be think, yea, thine alone. I come. I come.” As I was looking for music on YouTube, I did a search for Church of Christ hymns. I came across a video of the Diana Singing, an acapella meeting held every Labor Day in Tennessee since 1969, legendary to Church of Christ song leaders. They sounded for all the world like the Littleville congregation, and when they sang I Walk With the King (remarkable that it was one of the selections!), I cranked up the volume and sang along in my best Chuck Wagon Gang voice.
I grew up in a tradition that ended each service with an altar call, which we called The Invitation. For those unfamiliar, it is when the preacher ends his sermon, steps down from the pulpit, and makes an extra plea for sinners, including the unbaptized, to “walk down the aisle.” This was followed by an especially foreboding “invitation song,” like Tomorrow May Be Too Late or Just As I Am. So I know what it feels like to do an inventory of myself against God’s word. With musical effects. But if the stories stay in my past, they are sacred only as melodic spiritual nostalgia. Happy (mostly) memories. As one who has been called and answered the call, I realize there is work God wants me to do: hold the stories as with integrity and invite others to see how they intersect with their own. This is the narrative framework of the Kingdom of God.
Ordination means to me walking alongside others on their walk, being a witness to God’s love in a world that needs so much healing. It means being entrusted with administering the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion. We called it the Lord’s Supper, and I just could not wait to be baptized so that I could take the little cup of grape juice and break off a piece of matza on Sunday Morning. This was a holy time, something I recognized as a child. People sat silent with bowed heads. I asked my mother once what she thought about during the Lord’s Supper, and she said, “I think about how Jesus died for my sins and about his broken body.” It is difficult to express the depth of the sacred I experience from communion. But I can affirm and preside over the Sacraments, inviting others to engage with the Holy. And I have only one request for my ordination ceremony: that it include some of the old songs, sung acapella—with an alto lead.