I've seen some good movies since signing up with netflix. Last week I watched "Winter's Bone" a chilling tale about a teenage girl in the Appalachian mountains. Her mother incapacitated and her father absent, she tries to provide for and raise her younger sister and brother. One day the sheriff stops by to tell her that her father put the family's house and acreage up as bond and hasn't been seen since. She has a week to find him or the property will be taken. As the story unfolds we see this girl's dedication to her family, her courage as she faces obstacles and threats while tracking her father, and her acceptance of local customs even as she challenges local authority.
Next I watched "Born in Brothels" - a documentary filmed in Calcutta, India. A woman photographer spent time living in the red light district of the city to learn about and photograph its inhabitants. While there she became close to a number of children who had been born to prostitutes. Their lives were difficult and their futures unpromising; the girls were expected to become prostitutes by about 16; the boys rarely attended school. So the photographer gave them each a camera and began teaching them about taking pictures. The children got quite good so that there was an exhibition of their work at an art studio in the city. The photographer worked to get as many of the children as possible into boarding schools, although their families were resistant to such an unknown path. It was a wonderful movie - seeing how the children grew in ability and self-confidence, watching one person strive to make a real difference in those children's lives.
Meantime, of course I'm reading, too. I quickly finished the first book in the Solitary series by Travis Thrasher and am now nearly finished with "Emily Alone" about an older woman facing life after her husband and most of her friends have died.
I love stories; in fact, we all do. One way or another, every human being is drawn to stories - whether tales told by friends, shows on TV or the movies, or accounts of family members from times gone by. We love stories. Stories help us understand our own life; they help us see what may happen in the future and map out how we might respond. Stories show us that other people have experiences, questions, and emotions similar to our own. As the great movie "Shadowlands" put it: "we read to know we're not alone;" stories connect us to the world outside ourselves. We inhabit the stories we hear, imaging ourselves in 'this' or 'that' role.
God comes to us in stories. We can understand loving our neighbor as a concept, but it becomes clearer, more available to us through the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 15). Scripture tells us to love the stranger, the foreigner (Deut. 10:17-19), but that directive takes on new life when Jesus shares a story about inviting the poor, the lame, and beggars to your banquet (Luke 14:7-24). We know that God is powerful, that God especially notices and cares for those who suffer, but when we read again the account of the Exodus the magnitude of God's love and God's ability to save thrills us (Exodus chapters 1 through 15).
God's activity in history comes to us through stories, involving real situations and people, allowing us to see ourselves as participants in the action and recipients of God's generous love. We stand beside Abraham (Genesis 18:16-33) as he and God debate justice. We're astonished and proud as Abraham questions God, saying: "what if there are 50 righteous people in the city; will you destroy the whole place and not forgive it for the sake of those 50? Far be it from you to do such a thing." Wow - we grapple alongside Abraham with the nature of justice and mercy. Our hearts ache with Job as he sits in silence for seven days after losing his family, his wealth, and his good health. We get it when he curses the day he was born, when he challenges God to explain what he has done wrong to deserve such suffering. We have the same questions as Job does God's loving care and human pain. When Nathan tells King David about the man whose lone, beloved sheep was taken by his wealthy neighbor and slaughtered to feed a traveler, we are filled with David's righteous indignation when he says "that man should die!" and we are moved to self-examination as Nathan replies to the King "you are the man." (2nd Samuel 12:1-15). Such powerful, gripping stories!
And in those stories we meet God who invites us to step into the drama, to hear the critical lines addressed to ourselves, to claim the emotions stirred therein and see God's presence in our own lives. In these incredible stories we realize that God is not just a idea in our minds, but a powerful, living presence in our world - creator and redeemer, quick and strong to save.