Real faith and real life are the same real story

One of my favorite authors is also one of my favorite storytellers.

A reviewer of my How To Measure a Rainbow book once called me a capable “storyteller.” Alas, that’s far too grand a title for me, but one I’d love to deserve.

The man I’m thinking of is the real deal. Most of his stories have come to me via the written word, but on one occasion I listened to him in person.

Curtis Shelburne

Curtis Shelburne

For two hours Walter Wangerin, Jr., spoke, and it seemed like only minutes. I’d have gladly listened for many more hours as this amazing Christian man, a Lutheran pastor and writer and father, wove seamless stories of life and faith.

Therein lies much of the beauty of his stories, I think—that in them life and faith are so completely undivided, and every part of life itself, from the mundane to the sublime, is seen as a sacred and holy whole, a gift from God. It’s when we allow our lives to be cut up and divided—never more fatally than when we separate the “religious” part of our lives from the rest—that we fall into all sorts of senseless and hurtful idiocy, call it our religion, and use it in an attempt to tie up and tame God.

But, you see, that last paragraph is weak. A good storyteller would craft and tell an engaging story to point to a deep truth rather than just lecturing about it. People sleep through lectures; they remember truths they learn from stories, which is why Jesus always taught using stories.

A few years ago, I stumbled across an article about Wangerin. Diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he had written a book about his struggle to live out in his last days the faith which has been his life.

Such a struggle is suddenly more poignant and pointed than the challenges most of us face on most days. He wrote about faith in the midst of the unremitting pain and indignities brought on by the disease and its horrible treatment. It’s one thing, he said, to tell a story about loving your neighbor; it’s another to try to write the story while dealing with the nausea of chemotherapy. It’s one thing to write about hope eternal; it’s another to try to get through an afternoon without barking in pain-induced frustration at the spouse upon whom you are increasingly dependent for the most basic aid.

You and I may not be engaged in such an obviously final struggle, but seamlessly living out life and faith is rarely easy. We believe the words, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, . . .”

But, even in “normal” life, as we pay our bills, fight traffic, work with difficult co-workers, weep over damaged relationships, and daily fall far short, our struggle is to believe these words: “For God so loved me, that he gave his only Son for me.”

If we believe them, then we are learning that faith is life and life is faith and the two separated are something far less than real life and real faith.

By the way, against the odds, Wangerin is still alive. Still writing. Still committed that his death will be yet another chapter in a life pointing to the unending story of God’s life and love.

If we love Christ, we’re living the “good news,” the greatest story of all. And his story is ours.

(By the way, if you want to read a really short, really amazing and beautiful story illustrating what Christ did for us on the cross, it’s more than worth checking out Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s The Ragman. If you’re interested, “Google” it.)

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at
ckshel@aol.com

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