The Power of Story

Stories are powerful. I’m thinking mostly of written prose stories, though theater, movies and poetry can touch us in deep ways too. I know therapists who regularly use movie clips in therapy sessions.

Sally Lloyd Jones, talking to Charles Morris on A Haven Today, once commented, “If it’s not a love story, it doesn’t have the power to change your life.” (Her use of ‘love story’ included, but was not limited to, romantic love.)

On the back cover of my new novel, ‘A Thousand Tears from Home’, I mentioned the need for stories that inspire and raise vision. I recently made a new video clip about what energizes me, citing the need for poignant stories that distill truth into our hearts.

In Breakpoint on November 29, John Stonestreet and Warren Cole Smith showcased Madeline L’Engel and C. S. Lewis, story-tellers who shared the same birthday. Their theme was the power of story.

It seems this motif is all around us just now.

The Breakpoint included this quote from Andrew Peterson:-

 “If you want someone to know the truth, you tell them. If you want someone to love the truth, you tell them a story.”

 Wow. That is my experience. And that is me – I too am a story-teller. I am grateful.

Powerful but Gracious - a Conclusion.

I’ve been musing the last two weeks about a commitment to Christian worldview, to the Gospel, to Jesus himself, that is powerful and passionate. I see more and more clearly that this is what being ‘saved’ really means. But for all its passion, the message by and large needs to be delivered with humility and compassion. Otherwise it doesn’t edify. It doesn’t even land well.

Just yesterday I had a phone conversation with a person who is confused, aggressive, unlistening. As with nearly all conversations with this person, it was unfruitful. Afterwards he texted me, saying that he is praying for me, with my ‘finger-pointing’ style. Initially I shrugged off that response as just more of the same. But then the Holy Spirit nudged me. I texted back, thanking him for his prayers, acknowledging that I needed them.

I said that I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.

Firstly, James 3:1. Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. In other words, if you’re talking the talk, you’d better be wholeheartedly walking the walk yourself. If so, there’s a gentleness and humility about you. I think I’m not terrible at walking my talk, but apparently there’s some growth needed.

Secondly, there’s a spiritual dynamic at work here. My tendency to sound overbearing has a long history, and there have been times when I’ve felt something dark take over my demeanor. I know, I’m brushing against controversy here – in what ways, if any, can a Christian be affected by demons? I’m not about to take up that discussion, but I do believe that I need some prayer to break a spiritual oppression. I will be seeking prayer support for that.

Alright, nuff said on all this. Let’s see what I find for next week.

Powerful but Gracious - More on Fire and Fervor.

Continuing from last week where I tried to pinpoint a personal characteristic, namely my ‘gift’ for making others slightly uncomfortable when I hold forth on deeply significant topics. For example, in my opinion, most evangelicals would reject blatant ‘decisionism’, yet it seems that we are usually relatively untroubled by those who show very little evidence of regeneration. There! Did I manage to express that opinion without the undercurrent of judgement that often gets smuggled in? Is that powerful but gracious? I hope it might be, so maybe these musings are paying off!

I dare to hope when I’m talking that the point I’m making is usually a nugget of significant truth. It’s something about the mode of expression that sabotages it. Perhaps in words chosen, or voice tone, or body language. Or all the above. So the problem can be subtle. Though the discomfort I engender may not be so subtle.

I have wondered how much it matters that others feel discomfort when I deliver what I see as the truth. For example, when Jesus used a whip to drive shysters out of the temple, he wasn’t concerned about their anger. So apparently, this is sometimes the appropriate way to deal with error and ignorance. Powerful, but not so gracious. But this response is unusual, it’s not normative. So yes, usually it does matter that the way I express myself causes some uneasiness.

I wonder too about those who have championed great causes. For example William Wilberforce. Clearly a man with a passion, who aroused opposition. But was the opposition due more to his message, or the way he expressed himself? I listened to one of his speeches, and concluded it was definitely the message, not the delivery.

I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. But this is getting a little lengthy, so watch this space for this theme to be wrapped up next week! 

Of Fire, Fervor and Friends

Yesterday morning I was at a men’s group I attend each week. We meet over breakfast, and talk about issues we are experiencing, what God has been saying, generally encouraging and supporting each other. This time we talked for a bit about the place of corporate prayer in the respective churches we attend. Is prayer basic to the life of the church, or is it patchy, left to the faithful few? Is it vital or boring?

 Over a long period now, I have come to identify Christian faith with vitality, authenticity, fire in the belly. Afterall, the first and greatest commandment is about loving God with heart and mind and soul and strength. Nothing half-hearted there! If Jesus doesn’t mean everything, he doesn’t mean anything. I’ve come to see this theme more and more clearly throughout the Bible.

 Yes, I know there’s such a person as a ‘baby Christian’. But that’s in terms of experience, understanding and behavior, not in terms of motivation. The choice to become a Jesus follower brings with it the gift of the Holy Spirit. What more could you possibly want than that??!!

 And so with regard to the prayer life of the church, how can we possibly settle for a boring prayer meeting, to which just a handful of people show up? No, the prayer meeting needs to be shot through with worship, with glad thanksgiving, the expectation that we will meet with God, and be enlivened by him.

 Hmm! Do you hear it? The undercurrent of judgement, coercion. You’re feeling uncomfortable that I seem to be prescribing to you the way your heart must be. That was the theme when our discussion ended at my meeting yesterday morning. Dear friends were telling me that my fervor tends to become prickly, unattractive. Oh!

 I see it, but I’m not sure what to do with it. I don’t want to become less fervent. I don’t want to lower the bar – that would just trivialize the Gospel. It’s partly about cultivating humility. Partly about trusting that God is in charge. But there’s much more to it all than that.

 So that is my current struggle. Many other thoughts swirl around all this. Perhaps I’ll get back to them in another blog.

Gordon M. Baker

A Tale of Two Cars

On Friday I was driving to East Hartford. It was raining, and road spray kicked up from US Interstate 84 mingled with the rain. Some vehicle incident had occurred up ahead, and cars were stopped on the highway. You don’t expect to find vehicles stopped dead still on that bit of highway. I didn’t notice in time. My tires made impressive noises on the wet road as the wheels locked, but I could see I wouldn’t stop in time. Lanes were full of traffic, so there was nowhere to go.

I was probably travelling at less than 15 mph. at impact, but it was enough. Fortunately, neither I nor the driver of the other car were hurt, but the hood of my Dodge Caravan was crumpled, the radiator was pushed back, body panels and headlights were awry. A newer car would have been worth repairing, but not this venerable conveyance. It was a write-off.

So the last two days have been a whirl of insurance, rental car, disposal of a wreck, finding replacement transport, DMV. Where do you go to find a car, as reliable as $1500 or so will buy? You pray! And so do your friends.

Well, I found one. At least I’m trusting it will be satisfactory. A little Civic del sol. Rather old, but only 68,000 miles, and no rust! Rather different from my Caravan – much lower to the road!

Actually, I have known for some time that the days of my faithful car were numbered. It was needing repairs well beyond its value. So I had been praying, “Lord, if this car breaks down today, how will I respond? Will I be overcome with anxiety? Will I be able to pray in a spirit of worship and gratitude, as Paul teaches the Christians at Philippi?”

Well, it wasn’t quite as I imagined it might be, but yes, there was gratitude, even some worship, and not too much fear or anxiety. Not to my credit, but in answer to those prayers. So I am grateful for that.

By the way, the Hartford policemen who attended the accident were professional, courteous, helpful. If either of them happen to read this, “Thank you!”

A Truly Amazing Thought

Last week I mused on the fact that there are still people in the world whom we admire. Those who are honest, authentic and trustworthy. The largely pessimistic world around us tacitly admits that such a category exists, but cynically estimates that there’s hardly a person alive who occupies it.

Now it’s true that the Christian will agree that no person is truly good. But the basic characteristic of a Christian is that he is passionate about so living with, and being filled by, his perfect Creator that he is being daily remade into something more whole, and real and good. And his behavior by and large demonstrates his genuineness. I personally know many such people.

These thoughts reminded me of a young man I have been talking with. He is troubled by the old question of how a loving, benevolent God can have created a world that has shown so much darkness, agony and wickedness throughout most of its history. I talked with him about imaging a balance. On one side of the balance is the total sum of all the pain, betrayal, and treachery of the ages. On the other side is the value of free choice that God has endowed us with, and the potential for each of us to regain true unity with our Creator God, in all of his authenticity and splendor. Which side of the balance is heavier?

The doubter feels immediately that this question drastically underestimates the weight of wickedness endured since the beginning of history. And it’s true, that weight of wickedness is unimaginable. None of us can imagine the depth of suffering of, for example, the holocaust. And that is just a speck in the whole saga of history.

But what of the other side of the balance? I think our error is not in underestimating the weight of wickedness, but in how miniscule is our understanding of what C S Lewis called the Weight of Glory. The weightiness of those who have chosen to become Sons of God.

And, wait for it, here’s the truly breathtaking thought. What if only one person, through all of history, had made that choice. Would just one true saint outweigh the total sum of suffering? I think the answer might just be Yes. Does that give us just a hint of how tiny our understanding is of the real meaning of “Sons of God”? It’s like comparing one hydrogen atom with the whole universe. But I have a feeling that that is how it is.

What's in a Name?

 

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other word would smell as sweet;”  Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

 Yes fair Juliet, but the names and labels we use often color the way we think about a person.

 Recently I discovered that I’m not a conservative. That may surprise people who know me. It surprised me. It’s like this. I’ve been reading Wendy Shalit’s book A Return to Modesty. It’s well worth the read for anyone who cares about social change. But Shalit’s use of the word “conservative” had me puzzled for a while, until I realized that its meaning has shifted.

 I thought “conservative” meant adhering to well-established moral values, especially those embraced by Christians. Turns out that a more modern understanding is one who pretends to adhere to those values. So for example, the young man who begins college, and turns out a few years later for his graduation, fresh-faced, appropriately dressed, to all appearances a fine upstanding young pillar of the community, while all throughout, he and his frat pals have been knocking off all the women they can pressure, shame, or cajole into submitting. The prototype conservative.

 So those labelled “conservative” are presumed to be hypocrites. Hence the readiness of so many to presume Kavanaugh’s guilt. Well, he’s a conservative isn’t he? So of course he’s been up to the stuff that Ford accused him of. And more.

 It’s interesting though – apparently the people pessimistic about conservatism still believe in a category of person who is truly honest, authentic, real, conscientious. Else, why would they be so indignant about a person who they believe has not attained that category?

 Is there still a name for a real person?

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Introducing Gordon M. Baker

Hello, yes, that’s me. Gordon M. Baker. Very young people may call me Mr. Gordon. For others, Gordon will do just fine. (Except for my beautiful wife Tricia – she calls me all sorts of nice things.)

I guess the first thing to know about me is that I’m a Christian. That’s right, of the accept-Jesus-as-your-Lord-and-Savior kind. Though I don’t like that way of describing what it means to be a Christian. I think it’s an over-worn phrase, that doesn’t get to the heart of what being a Christian means. So there’s a teaser for another blog!

Yes, I hope to keep these going about weekly. Looking forward to mutually engaging you folks out there!

I mentioned Tricia. We also live not too far from our wonderful daughter Jacqui, and her smart, amazing son Tyler. Sadly enough, it’s a much bigger hop to our very special son Gareth – he lives in Australia.

My job? I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist, licensed in the State of Connecticut. I work mostly with couples, though I have individual clients too. I have some special training in sexuality, so combining these strands, you can understand that I’m passionate about God’s design for romance, marriage and sex. Wow, more blogs about all this!

Which brings me to the event that precipitated my blogging. I just published a book! Yes, a novel, set in my native land of New Zealand. It’s called A Thousand Tears from Home.The tale begins about the end of WWII, so it’s a bit olde worlde - a glimpse of the past that reaches out to the present. A story that includes romance, and, as the title suggests, bitter tears. Those who have read it so far have given it lots of praise.

So probably more blogs about the novel. My, I’m going to be busy!

Blessings,

Gordon M. Baker

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