whose or who?

As I drove home from Rothesay tonight, I was listening to the static on Radio 4, which was occasionally interrupted by Front Row. In one such interruption, a play was being reviewed: promising premise, stunning cast, but not quite what the reviewer had hoped for. When asked where it went wrong she said: ‘there’s a fabulous cast of characters, but at some point as a writer, you need to look at that and say “whose story am I going to tell?” You have to know what everything else revolves around.’

(apologies if this is not what she said. It is what I heard.)

And as soon as I heard it, I knew there was something there for me; something I needed to hear.

I haven’t been blogging much lately precisely because I haven’t known whose story to tell.

A priest’s life is highly populated with stories. The stories of scripture, the stories of the congregations, the stories of each member of the congregations. Stories of friends. Stories of mentors. Stories of our own lives; stories we hide from.

So whose story do you tell?

When I first heard the comment on Front Row, I went into ‘priest mode’ (call me on heresy later. This post is not on theology). I began mentally drafting a post on the theme ‘the story we tell is Christ’s.’

And that is true. But it is too easy.

So, the next imaginary post was: ‘to tell Christ’s story you need first to be able to tell your own.’

And that is true too. But it still misses the mark somehow. It leaves the door too wide on self-limiting stories, self-fabricated stories that don’t really lead us any further into Christ.

So, I began to wonder: what if it’s not ‘whose story do I tell’ but ‘who do I tell’?

Three times in the past two months I have been with people who know me so well that there is no need for story. There is no need to give context, or build defences. No need to tidy things up.

Those people leave me free to speak the things I find hard to admit. They help me feel the things I hadn’t even realized were there to feel. And only a few things need to be spoken for much to be understood.

Right now I can’t tell my story, because my head is full of theirs. Or rather of ours. Of 20, 25 years of friendship which is finally stripped of pretence and has emerged as something true.

So maybe that is Christ’s story after all.

You three, who should know who you are: Thank you.

12 thoughts on “whose or who?”

  1. Beautiful blog, poignant and private as well as reflective on a notion of the integrity of friendship in a Christ-centred world (even if that world seems restricted to just three people).

  2. Thanks Vicky — and I didn’t mean it to be restricted to the particular three. That I did was more about the impact certain meetings have had lately than any desire to limit the breath of friendship.

    I have said before, and possibly even said here: I think that if our society understood friendship better, a lot of other problems might ease. A theology of friendship may indeed be something the church can offer.

  3. That is so true and so beautiful.

    As some of you know, I am currently struggling with precisely this – and with which future story do I tell. It is a huge gift to have the chance for a new start in one’s fifties – but it is kind of scary for time is running out for false starts.

  4. Bummer, that is what comes of leaving the computer on when I’m out – that wretched dog has been posting, hasn’t he?

  5. Hmm, Theology of Freindship – yes it probably is about time this was updated from the delightful medieval tracts written by monks.

    Perhaps the SEC could get a group of like minded people together to work on something like this – how strange to think we could have serious theological debates about friendship rather than sex. Or even friendship and sex rather than just sex.

    Now I’m waffling.

    And procrastinating.

  6. Thank you.

    Funnily enough, I had been thinking sometime over the last month about trying to write something about friendship.

    Of course, I tend to divide the world into those who think all story is true and those who believe that stories are all lies. I’m learning to listen to the former.

    A thoughtful reflection on friendship might open all kinds of doors into new ways of thinking about the ministry/decipleship, bonds of affection/full communion and sexuality/relationship conundrums with which we spend our days.

  7. I suspect the Church could disagree as vehemently over friendship as it does on sexuality.

    As for truth and lies: good stories are true. Some good stories are factual. Bad stories lie, even if all the facts are there.

    Vicky, I sense this is being added to the list of things it would be good to do. We must get around to doing at least one of them before long… (I have imaginary publications on feminism for congregations; the church we imagine; and now friendship. I’m sure they’re all bound up together.)

  8. Perhaps if Lambeth becomes an example of how friendship can only work with integrity (ie they all fall out), the three of us and others of interest to meet with a focus of Theology of Friendship – God only knows when and how…but as God works miracles I’m sure something might just happen :-).

    Aelred of Rievaulx wrote a lovely (if a bit restrained) tract on Spiritual Friendship in 12th Century – this was produced in the Anglo-Norman north of England and done as a dialogue. How about we try to produce one in the Modern West Of Scotland – and do it as a trialogue or more – recording conversations and then transcribing them into written form. This way we could develop podcasts and texts from the meetings rather than having to come up with something alone?

    Alternatively, we could set up a blog / post – and build the discussion from there, then copy it into a more formal document and edit it into a constructed conversation? (I managed to write a paper with a colleague in the States this way – we only needed two editorial face to face meetings, the rest was done through hotmail messenger.)

    Thoughts on this? (I’m going to look up a few Saints days to see if there is an auspicious date to suggest a starting point – Aelred’s is 12th January but that seems too far away.)

  9. If we are going to do it, I think a face-to-face conversation is the way to begin. After that, a blog would work. I registered a new blog last night, intrigued by WordPress’ new photo-blog format, but I didn’t like it. So, I have a name claimed with no purpose (‘lifeandlight’).

    Vicky, my life is full of ideas that I never see through. You seem to be better at completion. Are we really going to do this? Kelvin, are you interested?

    And is this the right project for now? Or is the work on ‘imagining church’ more urgent? (Vicky, that’s my working title for something Kelvin and I discussed after Synod: gathering the younger generation of the church and trying to articulate for others a vision of the church we believe in, and what might be needed to help us move towards it.)

    General answer here, please, then I think we switch to email.

  10. For a modern take on friendship, try Sebastian Moore, OSB, ‘The Contagion of Jesus: Doing Theology as if it Mattered’ (DLT 2007).

  11. Am happy to do the friendship thing with folk – less likely to engage with imagined Church..but very happy to wait whilst you get that one going and then do a Friendship thing?

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