I was told to be on my best behavior. A guest was coming for dinner.
My family uses a standard practice to ensure that I do not mess up badly with visitors—they assign me the task of grilling in the backyard. If I am kept separate from the action, the potential for a figurative train wreck is minimized. Surprisingly, my family does not recognize my true potential.
When one of our boy’s girlfriends had arrived for her first visit, I was sent to the grill. I practiced her name as I set to my work (I have been told that it is off putting to use the names of other female friends who no longer visit with as much regularity). I shuffled over to our rusty gas grill and commenced the preparatory ritual.
I opened the lid, removed the cooking grate, reached down to open the gas valve, turned the burner knob, and was in the process of igniting the lighter to fire up the ancient grill when I noticed it. The grill was full of chicken feathers. The plot thickens.
Our grill is kept downwind of the chicken coop since I am fairly certain that chickens might not be fond of cooking aromas that come from the grill, especially when poultry is on the menu. The windward placement of the grill has a downside though—the grill serves as a repository for the feathers from our molting birds.
I noticed the large quantity of feathers stuck in the goo at the bottom of the grill. I assessed the timeline I was on for grilling the chicken. I lit the grill.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the scent of burning feathers, it is unpleasant. As soon as I sparked the flame, smoke from the smoldering feathers began billowing all around me and filled the yard with a dark haze. Then, seemingly on cue for the perfect faux pas, our son and his friend emerged from the backdoor of the house. And they entered the aroma of my guest friendly assignment of backyard grilling.
What can someone say at this point? The pungent smell hung thick in the air and black smoke continued to pour out of the grill. I made the most of the situation. I greeted them with a smile, I used the correct name (as practiced), and I said that the grilled chicken would be ready for supper in about 30 minutes. Yum.
I have purposefully left the story dangling a bit. Unresolved portions of my tale remain unanswered. Did the guest eat the meal from the grill that evening? Was this the only time that our son’s friend came to our house for a meal? And what did the chickens think about all of this?
Our stories are reflective of our lived experiences when we leave open ended questions. If I try to resolve every issue in my story, or try to paint a “happily ever after” summary, the story has more of a fairy tale feel than a lived reality. Rarely do we have life experiences in which everything makes sense and has purpose. We love to tell stories that way though—to confidently conclude every testimony with a summary of how we understand the purpose behind every lived experience that we have gone through.
Let’s be honest. For many of us living and serving in rural ministry settings, a ‘happily ever after’ story rarely reflects the lived reality of the people living in our communities.
When we sanitize the raw, unresolved portions of our life story, we diminish the impact of our testimony. We also limit our own opportunity to process how God is at work in our lives. And, we make the story less than reflective of the lived reality.
I Love to Tell the Story
As the old hymn goes, the story is not all about me, but founded upon “Jesus and His love.” Our stories, our testimonies, point to the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the impact of The Story is not static. My story continues to be shaped by The Story.
Think about churchy words like justification, sanctification, and glorification that are used to explicate our experience of salvation. Justification – I have been saved from the penalty of sin. Sanctification – I am being saved from the power and influence of sin. Glorification – I will be saved from the presence of sin. Notice the past, present, and future aspects of salvation.
We love to tell our testimonies as if we have fully lived the past, present, and future.
My spoken testimony generally follows a scripted outline of God’s definitive plan throughout my story. I tell my story as if I am looking back from the vantage point of glorification where there is no longer the presence of sin clouding my vision. I lose the realness of my story being “not yet” complete, with plenty of unresolved experiences and questions. I lose the opportunity to rehearse how the Holy Spirit is currently saving me from the power and influence of sin, a process that I have not fully understood nor experienced.
I pray that I celebrate the completeness of the gospel story, the power of God unto salvation. But, I hope that we tell our own stories completely, including the rawness and unanswered questions. In the end, sharing our real stories brings about authentic Christian community and opportunities for spiritual growth.
Our rural friends know how to tell a good story with authenticity and excellence. We rural ministers should know how to weave in The Story into the story of our own life and the life of our community. With the tension of rawness and unanswered questions.
Let’s tell our stories of burning feathers in the backyard. Let’s be real.