A New Story

Cory-and-the-Seventh-Story-Cover-LargeBrian McLaren has written a new book. There’s nothing new about that. He’s been churning out around one a year for a few decades now. I personally have been blessed, challenged and changed by reading his writings. By far, the book that has had the greatest impact on my life of faith has been A New Kind of Christian which, for me at the time, echoed so many I-dare-not-speak thoughts and questions about what had become to me a stale, dead, rote-memory, agenda-driven Christianity.

And that story is told in a new, embraceable way in this brightly-illustrated children’s book by Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins, Cory & the Seventh Story.

If you are familiar with Brian’s work, the seventh story will definitely ring a bell. In this child-friendly version, Cory the raccoon and his friend Owl (who, unfortunately, remains nameless) live through the evolution of human civilisation as symbols of ourselves in their animal village. As the story unfolds, the creatures play out the stories, centring around the possession of a ‘shiny object,’ that we all, at some point, have lived:

Domination: Us ruling over Them
Revolution: Us overthrowing Them
Isolation: Us apart from Them
Purification: Us marginalising or excluding Them
Victimisation: Us defeated by Them
Accumulation: Us with more than Them
Reconciliation: Us for Them

Cleverly weaving in very relatable interactions between Cory and the main players in these stories, McLaren and Higgins reveal the great flaws in history’s six stories which are only overcome in the telling of a seventh story by a poet-horse named Swift.

In this new story, a bigger table is built and all the animals are welcomed to a great feast. They are to come as they are and leave their ‘shiny objects’ at home and simply enjoy what has been prepared for them. Those who up until now had been considered ‘the least’ are given places of honour at the table and there is plenty of food for everyone–nobody is left out.

As they enjoy the celebration, Swifthorse tells the new story:

“There is no big or small, no short or tall,
No best or worst, no blessed or cursed,
No dirty or clean, no cause to be mean,
No rich or poor, no reason for war,
We have more than enough in the story of love.
Each is for all of us, and all are for each of us.
This is the wisdom this new story teaches us.”

Of course, there are a few who snarl and spit at this idea–these are the dominating creatures of the previous stories: Badger, Fox, Weasel and Skunk–who drive out Swift and, possibly (this part is left unanswered) kill her.

Drive the poet away, but this story will stay.
Long after I’m gone, the story lives on.

In the concluding pages, the creatures, who themselves are treated as outcasts by the antagonists, gather around a fire and retell Swift’s story and promise to live in love and service for the betterment of their world.

For those of us who have grown up in Christianity, the parallels are quite obvious. However, seeing ourselves as tellers of the six stories at various times in our journey is something that, even as an adult, is confronting. In our own interaction with ‘shiny objects’ and the desire for power over others, we have failed in many ways to hear the story of love as it is told–and demonstrated to us–by and in the life of Jesus.

This short, readable parable may not only grow our children’s awareness of the stories by which we live our lives, but may also help us to see how much we need to grow as their parents and role models to not only tell but also show them the reconciling love and acceptance of Jesus.

Cory & the Seventh Story was released on 12 December and, at the time of writing, is only available directly from the website https://www.theseventhstory.com/kids/


I Hugged a Man in His Underwear . . .

Now that I’ve got your attention . . .

No, seriously, that is part of the title of this post I read yesterday and was very moved. Nathan (who wrote the post) is a pastoral care worker for The Marin Foundation, working out of Chicago in the USA.  His post tells the story of his attendance at this year’s Gay Pride parade, not as a protester, but to openly say ‘We’re Sorry’ to the LGBT community for not being like Jesus. I’ll put a link to the post at the end of this one.

I admire the work of The Marin Foundation for what they are doing in repairing relationships between the Church and the LGBT community (and highly recommend Andrew Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community, though I still don’t think he goes far enough in his acceptance of LGBT folk into the life of the Christian community).

What I really appreciated is Nathan’s openness to realising that the Church of which he is a part has been wrong to victimise the LGBT community, marginalise them, and treat them no better than third-class citizens. While others were shouting venomous words and waving hate-filled placards, he and his friends were wearing T-shirts that said ‘I’m Sorry” and held banners and signs declaring sins of exclusion, asking for forgiveness.

What I also appreciate is what he said regarding acceptance and reconciliation:

Acceptance is one thing. Reconciliation is another. Sure at Pride, everyone is accepted (except perhaps the protestors). There are churches that say they accept all. There are business that say the accept everyone. But acceptance isn’t enough. Reconciliation is.

But there isn’t always reconciliation. And when there isn’t reconciliation, there isn’t full acceptance. Reconciliation is more painful; it’s more difficult. Reconciliation forces one to remember the wrongs committed and relive constant pain. Yet it’s more powerful and transformational because two parties that should not be together and have every right to hate one another come together for the good of one another, for forgiveness, reconciliation, unity.

Paul Fiddes spoke about forgiveness yesterday in the seminar I attended at Tabor Adelaide. Using the example of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa at the end of Apartheid, he demonstrated the difference between saying ‘I’m sorry’ and then sweeping the past under the carpet (so to speak) and sharing stories which lead to a more genuine understanding and reconciliation. In sharing stories, he said, we bring to light how the offense has affected us and often, though not always, just telling their story and hearing the story of the victim can bring about a real change in the attitude and life of the offender.

I believe it’s only when we can keep the conversation open that real reconciliation and the mending of damaged relationships can happen. Just like no gay person has ever been converted with signs that say ‘God Hates Fags,’ no reconciliation can happen if we refuse to respect the other enough to listen–rather ‘enter into’–their story.

After all, this is what Jesus did for us.

Here’s the link to Nathan’s post, I Hugged a Man in His Underwear, and I am Proud.