Inspired by Scripture, Shaped by Story

This I Believe: My Spiritual Journey (begin 2007 Summer Worship Series)

  • Psalm 19:5 “like a strong man run [the race] with joy….” [KJV]
  • Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 “The race is not to the swift…”
  • 1 Corinthians 9:24 “Run in such a way that you may win…..”
  • Hebrews 12:1 Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”

Scripture Shaping Faith

A compelling recent Mennonite book is called Telling our Stories: Personal Accounts of Engagement with Scripture . A group of Mennonite teachers and pastors from across the church came together for a retreat 5 years ago this weekend at the Laurelville Mennonite Church Center near Pittsburgh (June 7-9, 2002). The reason for their retreat was to tell the stories of “Our journey with Scripture.” They agreed to come and tell their personal journey with the Bible. They also agreed that this would be a time of listening and honoring each other’s stories without judgment or debate.

One of the participants, Jo-Ann Brant, who teaches at Goshen College, revealed how by studying the Bible with her students, she moved from primarily approaching the Bible as a scholar “to a growing awareness of the habits of the heart that the [biblical] stories instilled” in her and her students (55).

Another participant, theologian Denny Weaver, recently retired from Bluffton University, says, “I assume that the Bible is true – not infallible nor inerrant – but true.” A Mennonite pastor shared his view of an infallible and inerrant Bible while recognizing that this is a statement of faith that he makes that “cannot be reasoned to nor reasoned out of” (180).

For all their different stories and relationships with Scripture, they all agreed that the Bible is central in their life and in the life of the church. They concluded that “We all have personal stories of our journeys with Scripture interwoven with the communities and significant persons that nurtured our faith” (18).

Editor and theologian Richard Kauffman wrote an editorial based on his participation in the “Engaging Scripture” retreat for Leader , a Mennonite Church USA publication. Richard reminds us that, “It should come as no surprise that we Christians fight over interpretation of the Bible…Our differences over wedge issues …..stem in part from the fact that we hold to differing understandings about biblical authority and use different schemes for interpreting Scripture . But our differences have just as much to do with the unique life experiences that serve as ‘pre-text’ for how we read the biblical texts. What we bring to the Scriptures by way of our own life experiences shapes what we get out of the Scriptures” (Editorial, Leader, Summer 2007) .

The “Engaging Scripture” retreatants recognize that we are story-formed people and that the Bible is our central common story . They also recognize that our story shapes how we hear the biblical story . In other words, we read the Bible and the Bible reads us. They encourage us across the church to engage Scripture with our stories.

Yet in their “Conclusion” these Mennonite leaders remind us that “storytelling is not the whole task….It is only the beginning – the fun part. Our story is not normative and faithful just because it is our story. What makes biblical storytelling normative is if, after testing in the community of faith, it corresponds with the story of Jesus” (257).

Richard Kauffman also concludes his editorial with the caution that our stories don’t exist in isolation or un-interpreted anymore than do the biblical stories. There are faithful and unfaithful stories. Our stories demand interpretation. They need to be interpreted not only in Christian community but our stories need to be interpreted by Scripture. We need each other and the Bible to help us rightly know our own stories.

In a similar effort, two of the “Engaging Scripture” participants, Melinda Berry and Keith Graber Miller, have compiled another Mennonite book called, Wrestling with the Text: Young Adult Perspectives on Scripture . Melinda and Keith are Bible and Religion profs at Goshen College. With young adults they ask the hard questions many of us ask: Does the Bible matter? What meaning does Scripture have for our lives and faith?

Or Michele Hershberger wrote a little book especially good for baptismal candidates and study groups called God’s Story, Our Story: Exploring Christian Faith and Life . Her book grew out of a series of sessions with pastors and youth leaders a few years ago. It follows the biblical story and our Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective.

Finally another recent Mennonite book looks across the sweep of the Anabaptist Mennonite story. In Stories: How Mennonites Came to Be , another Goshen prof, John Roth introduces a new look at our Mennonite story with a quote from William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” (Roth, p. 9, WF, Requiem for a Nun ). [Show book]

John begins with a personal story of conflict in his family – a somewhat dangerous yet sometimes revealing thing to do. His story is of a family conflict that was resolved with a look at family photos from years past. John concludes, “It would be nice to end there and conclude that telling stories – remembering together our shared past – resolves all conflicts and enables us to move into the future united by a common store-house of memories” (p. 10). John confesses that this wouldn’t be the whole story or the whole truth. Yes, memories preserve our sense of family, ground our sense of belonging, and comfort our sense of loss. When the world seems to be becoming unhinged and our lives becoming chaotic, we turn to stories from the past to remember who we are. “This is the power of the biblical stories: they remind us amid the confusion of our culture that we are part of a much larger story, one that connects us with the early church and the lives of Jesus, Sarah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets” (p. 10).

This I Believe: My Spiritual Journey

This summer our worship connects our story and The Story. We are calling it “This I Believe: My Spiritual Journey.” For the next 12 Sundays different ones of you our sisters and brothers will share with us something about your spiritual journey and engagement with Scripture. Worship will take different shapes depending on the shape of your story or the biblical story.

Our first storyteller next Sunday will be Erin Murray, a child of this church and now our Ministry Intern, telling us how her study and service in Guatemala from January to April shapes her life and faith. Woven into next Sunday’s worship will be the recognition that Neah and Will’s stories have brought them to their graduation from high school.

As a further introduction to this summer worship series, I want to share a personal story of “This I Believe: My Spiritual Journey.”

I could share something from my childhood in a church and family deeply engaged in Scripture. Worship, Sunday School, Wednesday evening prayer meeting, summer Bible school, family morning devotions and evening Bible stories, a Mennonite high school and memorizing many Bible verses were all part of my life.

Or I could take you to my seminary studies 30 years ago, including 6 weeks in Colombia studying Liberation Theology, which changed my life and faith.

Or I could share with you my discovery of biblical storytelling more than 20 years ago. Biblical storytelling and the NOBS community (Network of Biblical Storytellers) is a central part of my story “Engaging Scripture.”

Instead I invite you into a different part of my story this morning. Have you ever been asked what you would do or be if you could start over again? I know that question sounds a lot different if you are 12 or 22 than if you are 62.

No, I wouldn’t change my life. I am blessed beyond measure or merit in my life and family and ministry. In my younger years I would never have imagined being a pastor. Now I cannot imagine a more blessed calling. I often say that pastoral ministry is the most blessed and impossible work I have ever done in my life – having also done farming, plumbing and heating, meat cutting, political organizing, and peace ministry.

Nevertheless my answer to that question would reveal a personal passion—or rather two odd and conflicted personal passions. I have been known to say that if I were starting

over I would either be a monk or an Indy car driver. On my computer screen is my beloved Saint John’s Abbey and Helio Castroneves, the brilliant Brazilian Indy Car driver. In Brazil, racing fans are as numerous and fanatical as soccer fans!

I have long wanted to write about a “spirituality of racing.” This is my first attempt to put that into words. In a sense it is more to understand myself than to expect you to do so. And I certainly don’t expect you to share this passion with me J

I intended to spend the last two days at the Portland International Raceway meeting and watching Champ car drivers from all over the world. It is our closest track and open wheel race. But this week was too full and I regretfully missed going to Portland for the race. However in March, Marg and I did attend the Indy Car race at Miami-Homestead Raceway in Florida. An awesome day! And last night I watched on TV as my second favorite driver, Sam Hornish, Jr., won an incredible Indy Car race in Texas by a mere few thousandth of a second after 500 miles driving 214 mph!

I will never forget the exhilarating sight and sound of being at the Indianapolis Speedway in May 1992. I was standing at the fence on the front stretch just out of turn 4 of the most famous race track in the world watching qualifying for the Indy 500. I saw the Scotsman Jim Crawford flash past in a blur of green and white to set a new closed circuit track record of 242 mph. I don’t have words to describe what I felt. And I wasn’t even driving!

I also spent the first week of May at Saint John’s Abbey where I have come to live and love the monkish part of my life. Both of these seemingly incongruous and extraneous “callings” are a passionate part of my spiritual journey. They both hold a strong mystique and deep passion for me. Another time I will relate these monastic and racing passions through the lens of action and contemplation, but this morning I reveal only a glimpse of a “spirituality of racing.” But how can racing have any spiritual meaning? Yes, I know all the reasons why it is a waste of time and resources. But then, is not the Christian life “a Royal waste of time” with Divine. So I invite you to go with me to 4 scriptures that speak of “running the race” and reveal a spiritual principle.

Racing and Scripture

Psalm 19:5 “like a strong man run [the race] with joy….” [KJV]

The Psalmist, as we heard in our call to worship, declares God’s glory in creation. In verse 5, the Psalmist speaks of the sun running its course in the heavens like a strong man “running the race with joy” (KJV).

One reason Helio is my racing hero is his unquenchable joy. At a time when sports seems to be dominated by spoiled trash talking athletes being paid obscene salaries, Helio is an ambassador of good will offering encouragement and grinning from ear to ear. His exuberant enthusiasm makes him one of the most inspiring persons I have ever met. My Washington racing hero, Greg Biffle, races with sheer joy (6/9/07 Nashville & Pocono).

Passionate joy and having fun go a long way toward success in racing. Following Jesus also calls us to joyful passion, not because it is easy or because we’re always successful but because it is our life and we cannot refuse it.

Ecclesiastes 9:11 “The race is not to the swift…”

The writer of Ecclesiastes, in chapter 9, instructs us how to “take life as it comes.” The writer goes on to explain that the “race is not to the swift……but time and chance happen to them all” (v. 11). The writer also concludes that “wisdom is better than weapons of war” (v. 18).

Two racing lessons that are hard to learn are, “anticipate everything” and “slow down to go fast.” To “anticipate everything” means that you realize that anything can happen or as Ecclesiastes says, “time and chance can happen to all.” Yes, even tragedy can take place. I have seen tragedy in racing too many times, the hardest for me being the death of the brilliant young Canadian race driver Greg Moore. Racing demands that you be totally focused on this present place and moment and equally focused on what’s coming up for you, not only what you can see ahead of you but what you can anticipate laps ahead of you. Also to “slow down to go fast” – one of the hardest racing lessons – means that sometimes you actually make better time of you slow down and let the car find its quickest time not just its maximum speed. The race is not always to the swift.

An alert and aware spiritual journey calls us to “anticipate everything” while knowing that “time and chance happen to all.” We often must “slow down to go fast” by being alert and attentive what is going on in and around us to let the best come forth.

1 Corinthians 9:24 “Run in such a way that you may win…..”
Hebrews 12:1 Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”

The Apostle Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians, says, “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize?” In answer to his own rhetorical question, Paul encourages us to “Run in such a way that you may win [the prize]” (9:11-12).

Or the best known Scripture on racing comes from the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews with instructions to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (12:1). The writer introduces us to a “great cloud of witnesses.” These living witnesses model for us how to say “No” to all that hinders the race we run and “Yes” to all that is life-giving and points us to Jesus in whom we live and move and have our being.

Racing is all about dedication, discipline, talent, experience, intuition, rhythm, risk, leadership, trust, anticipation, and numerous other essentials of faith all lived with passionate joy! In other words it is to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” and to “run in such a way as to win” knowing that “time and chance happen to all.” Racing takes total discipline, absolute commitment, flawless teamwork, and everyone offering their fullest gift for the sake of the greater good. Let us tell our stories engaged with Scripture so that we always “run with perseverance the race that God sets before us.”