An Invitation to STORY

Dan and I don’t do a lot of advance planning. I mean, we make it to the dentist every six months and Claire gets Botox every quarter, but we have never been the plan-a-vacation-a-year-in-advance type. With four kids and full schedules, our idea of advance planning is to make sure everyone has clean underwear for the next day. You can decide if this is a strength or a weakness in our characters. Last month, however, we felt so strongly about planning in advance for the STORY conference coming to Chicago on September 23-24, that we not only signed up ourselves, but we also signed up four of our siblings (the group rate rocks)!

I documented parts of our experience at STORY last year here and here, but I didn’t get finished. There is so much to tell. Some of it we’re still processing. (Dave Gibbons briefly mentioned the term “theology of pain” and if I don’t write out what that means for me before I die it will be one of my greatest regrets.) Some of it was just the joy of the experience; I couldn’t explain it in words.

We were planning to go again this year in that yeah probably kind of way until I heard from our friend Jason that his church, Park Community in Chicago, was hosting the conference this time around. S. O. L. D. Dan, Jason, and I spent a couple of very fun and formative creative years together. And when I say fun and formative you can assume that is both true and somewhat euphemistic. : )

This year the seating at STORY is limited to 500, half of which have already been sold. I’m not great at math, but I’m pretty sure that means if you are interested in coming then you should probably sign up sooner rather than later. I’m looking at you, Caleb! : )

This year’s list of speakers isn’t all big names. But this is good. To be honest, a lot of me made that trip last year just to hear Donald Miller. And he was good. But I was actually most impacted by the speakers I had never heard of before that day. This year’s lineup (check it out here) is about the members of the creative class who are actually doing the work. Probably a lot of work that you know, even though you might not recognize their names immediately.

Of course, you’ve probably heard of some of the guests: Kari Jobe ring a bell? : )

If you decide to make the trip, let us know. Dan and I are celebrating our 10th anniversary this summer and we’re turning this trip into part of a late celebration. STORY has been part of our growing up journey – something we found together and continue to refer to as a source of inspiration and challenge. We’d love to share it with you, too!*

UPDATE: Ben Arment, STORY creator, shares updates about the conference on his blog. Most recently he mentions a special hotel rate available for a few more days.

*I mean “share” in a see ya when you get there kind of way. I am NOT a fan of 15 passenger vans or any other trademark of church summer camp style road trips. But, really, let’s do lunch in Chicago! : ) And invite your friends!

Listen to Our Hearts

As a young person, I found prayer confusing. Difficult. Random. Since then I’ve read a lot on the subject, observed people who pray (from inside and outside the circles of my youth), and even taught college classes on spiritual disciplines (you never learn something as thoroughly as you do when you have to teach it to someone else!). So, I suppose, as a not-as-young person, I am still finding my way in prayer.

Two useful tips over the years have been the most beneficial to me. The first was the idea of using The Lord’s Prayer as a kind of outline for my own prayer time.The other was using the Psalms as a prayer guide. I’m also currently dipping my theological feet into Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours series as well. It provides written prayers and sacred readings according to the ancient Christian patterns of multiple devotional hours throughout the day.

Sometimes it feels there is so much to study, so many methods to consider! But this morning I heard the prayer of one of the four year-olds in our children’s chapel and I was washed in its simplicity. It actually follows some of the patterns I mentioned above, and it is very likely pieces of other people’s prayers that he has mixed together and memorized, but it was his all the same.

Dear God,

Thank you for our snacks.

Help us be nice to our friends.

Bless Jesus.


Beautiful photo from earlb on Flikr. Check his website also!

How Do I Fit?

When Dan tires of a conversation, he will sometimes keep looking at you but start writing invisible chord charts over your head. If you are still talking, he’ll begin rearranging the chords to make his musical progression more interesting. Most people never know this. Since I recognize this particular face, however, and fear that I might see it on you if I go too deeply into my description of my summer reading, I will sum up instead.

We’ll start with a cute shot of Macy sitting on the Giant’s table while he sleeps – to get us in the story-talk mood:

I’ve been reading about Christian poetics – a way of studying and analyzing literature through a Christian viewpoint. Of course I’ve studied a lot of literary theory while in college, but combining that with a Christian perspective is new to me. I always struggled with figuring out which literary theory best framed my questions about literature. Although I have feminist concerns, I don’t find that theory addressing enough for me. I’m also drawn to New Historicism and New Criticism in many ways, but not fully convinced of a perfect fit. And I’m bored by deconstructionism and Marxism, among others. But this idea of a Christian literary theory excites me. There are troves of material on the subject (I have piles of yellow sticky notes with suggestions of titles and authors scribbled on them), and I feel like I’m discovering a new world.

One afternoon several emails came into my inbox from a listserv for college instructors interested in Christianity and literature. What a wonderful way to pass an afternoon! I tried to explain it to Dan, but he just smiled at me, and I could see his fingers instinctively tapping out rhythms on the steering wheel. “Put it this way,” I smiled back, “I found my people today.”

Read this excerpt from The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing (edited by Leland Ryken) and I think you’ll understand:

Modern literary theory has campioned the idea of interpretive communities – readers and authors who share an agenda of interests, beliefs, and values. Christian readers and writers are one of these interpretive communities. Everyone sees the world and literature through the lens of his or her beliefs and experiences. Christians are no exception….

So, there I am. Hey, are you listening? : )

The Best of Men . . .

I fell in love with this guy more than 10 years ago:

Our youngest was born on his 30th birthday. Two people to celebrate on one wonderful, sunny day.

If life together is this good now, I can’t imagine how wonderful it will continue to be. There must be nothing better in this life than to spend it with the person you like most in the world. (And the little people he is responsible for are a pretty great package deal!)

Looking for Our Totem-Stories

Have you read Phyllis Tickle’s The Shaping of a Life: A Spiritual Landscape? I didn’t know it, but my soul wanted this book. And I’ve only read three chapters! From the very first page I felt I was drinking from a cup of perfectly chilled water, its river rushing through my being with life and refreshment.

This satisfied feeling is easily contrasted to it’s empty counterpart: web surfing. You know that feeling, right? It is already late, you should have accomplished a million other things tonight, but instead you are still click-click-clicking through random links on blogs, Facebook pages, and shopping sites. For some crazy reason when I get in that mode, I actually imagine that the answer to my current dream or dilemma might very likely be found in my next click. And so I keep clicking. Usually this leaves me only with a sleepy regret of wasted time and another day coming without promising anything more substantial.

I have associated this dissatisfaction with a spiritual hunger that can never be fully satisfied in this life. And I still think that is true, but Tickle’s spiritual autobiography offers another suggestion that seems even more applicable. She describes the shared conventions among her regional ancestors (from the Scotch-Irish and Native American legacies) that were integral in the shaping of her childhood experiences:

. . . . Not the least among these was the belief that for every child there was an appointed narrative, a story that would unlock life for him or her. Like a totem, the story would be for one’s whole life an identity, an explanation, and an enduring tool. Without such a narrative, one would be forever confined to a stumbling confusion and a wearying poverty of spirit. The work of childhood was to discern one’s narrative, and the work of the adult community was to provide an abundance of possibilities from which each of us might choose.

I find myself in both of these categories: wondering if I could name my totem-story from childhood and also accepting my responsibility as a parent. I don’t worry that I have not provided these opportunitees, instead, I recognize how very hard we all try to engage with them in our everyday lives. I don’t necessarily think that my son is going to be a major league baseball player, but what if baseball is part of his totem-story, a way that he makes sense out of this life or a passion that at least offers him positive focus during the tumultuous years of adolescence? I know Claire won’t be a world-class equestrian, but what if horseback riding lets her fly across fields in a way that her compromised physical body never could. What if this is her place of solace and comfort?

So we spend too many nights in the month of June eating sandwiches out of a cooler and playing hours and hours of baseball. We schedule swimming lessons and music lessons. We research community theater and consider after-school tutoring. I know all of this can be over-done and twisted into torture for a child, but today I’m struck by the genuinely inspired intentions of our parental hovering.

In the end, Tickle’s totem-story turned out to be the Christian gospel. Confined to her bed during a childhood illnes, she was fascinated by reading the Old Testament story of Moses holding up the bronzed serpent that the Israelites had only to look up to and be saved from the venomous serpents all around them. As she grew into adulthood, she learned more from the New Testament Gospel of John: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” The verses that follow these are the most recognized in the Bible: “For God so loved the world . . . ” A connection was made for Tickle that guided the rest of her life. (Side note: This material has tons of talking points for the theologians among us. What an incredible association between our disease and our remedy!)

I suppose what I’ve gleaned so far from Tickle’s lovely book is that my desire for my children to find their totem-stories is noble, but they are just as likely to find it during a simple afternoon of reading as from a packed schedule of events. Of course I won’t stop looking for opportunities, but I’ll also be comforted by the perfect grace and timing of God. After all, he tells really great stories.