Tag Archives: biblical narrative

The Contours of Story header-revised

The Contours of Story

 “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into.”

—Sam as he approaches Mordor with Frodo in Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring


Since writing my last blog about the unanticipated dangers my son and I encountered on the summit of Cardigan Mountain, I have thought often since then about what happened and why I recall it so vividly.

When we passed the opened shelter at the base of Firescrew Mountain, we made our decision to forge on. We had no idea what that meant. We did know that daylight would soon fade to darkness and we knew we might be exposed to the full brunt of the winter wind as it gusted over the summits of the two mountains.

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Arthur Kampmann, Cardigan Mountain 2017

The snow, the dark and the wind together conspired to confuse us with false signals as to the way forward, making us turn back time and again until we could hunt down a better way. But with all the forces of nature seemingly against us, we pushed on determined to find the cabin somewhere below the summit. It helped having one another as we made our way.

When Arthur finally called out that he had found the fire tower, there was no elation because the summit offered only danger. We could hardly hear one another over the roar of the wind, but we did not pause. We began a search for the trail that would take us to safety.

The cabin itself was dark and cold inside, but it was a refuge in the night and as soon as Arthur built a fire, the room began to warm. Now that we were secure, it was sobering to recall the conditions on the exposed summit of Cardigan. While we were searching for a way down, we had no time for reflection, only action. But now in the warmth of the cabin, I realized Arthur and I had just lived through the drama of a survival story.

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John Eldridge wrote a short book on the centrality of story to the process of understanding the meaning of the life we live. Madeleine L’Engle has written, “All of life is a story.” Eldridge elaborates: “It goes far deeper than entertainment. Stories nourish us. They provide a kind of food that the soul craves. ‘Stories are equipment for living,’ says Hollywood screenwriting teacher Robert McKee. He believes that we go to the movies because we hope to find in someone else’s story something that will help us understand our own. We go (to movies) ‘to live in a fictional reality that illuminates our daily reality.’ Stories shed light on our lives.”

Eric Kampmann hiking 2017

Myself, Cardigan Mountain 2017

Philip Yancey tells us that behind the human condition is an epic story that has fragmented into countless mysteries. He describes what he means by giving us GK Chesterton’s picture of the human story as “a sort of cosmic shipwreck.” Chesterton believes “a person’s search for meaning resembles a sailor who awakens from a deep sleep and discovers treasure strewn about, relics from a civilization he can barely remember. One by one he picks up the relics-gold coins, a compass, fine clothing-and tries to discern their meaning. Fallen humanity is in such a state. Good things on earth-the natural world, beauty, love joy-still bear traces of their original purposes, but lost of memory mars the image of God in us.”

To Chesterton and to me the ultimate version of this story is contained in the pages of the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. The question for each one of us is to try to discern where we believe we fit into that larger biblical narrative as we discover patterns and context to the life we live here and now.

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Learning to Dance

How I Found Identity & Purpose Through Reading The Bible Every Day

At the threshold of a new year it is fair to ask: Why do I bother reading the Bible every day? What is the purpose? What is the benefit?

The question of purpose is a good one; in fact, two of the great struggles for nearly every person are to seek and find, if possible, true identity and purpose for this short life we have been gifted.

As far as I know, we did not ask for life; we just seem to wake up into a strange and wondrous world as if from a very deep sleep. Where there seemed to be nothing before we awoke, now there is color, noise, activity and people. There is a mother to cling to; a father to follow; brothers and sisters to play with, and even possibly an extended family of uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins. It can be a very populated world we have entered, and it is the first place that provides an important level of identity.

But this world we entered so mysteriously is time bound. At some point things will change. We will even change, and with all the changes comes a challenge to the comfort of that original identity.  For some, this can be a terrifying experience. Our world can become unfamiliar and isolating; As we shed part or all of the old identity, we grow a new one that at some point will be shed as well.

During the course of my own life, I put on one identity after another. Some worked, some didn’t, but as long as I was responding to what others seemed to want, I was able to get by, even if that identity did not fit very well.

What changed for me was my encounter with the biblical narrative…. all of it, from Genesis to Revelation. This did not happen overnight. I understood very little of what I read when I started out, because I was overlaying the biblical stories with my own story. It was as if, at first, I was reading to find myself imposed on this person or that in the biblical account. I was making them into me, and so, until I allowed the stories to flow through me into my heart as well as my head, I was unable to hear and understand what was being said.

It wasn’t that I was like King David; no, it would be more accurate to say that there was something of King David in me. The more I read, the more I began to understand the full sweep of the human condition, not just the one I was living in my own time and place. And the clearer that became to me, the more I came to stand along side the entire parade of human experience as a participant in this difficult and mysterious world I had entered as an infant.

Ultimately, it was a question of which identity fit. Ultimately, my story became a quest to know Jesus and then, to do what I could and can do with all of my limitations to make him known. My identifying with Jesus led directly to my purpose for living through all kinds of circumstances. Living through Jesus meant turning the assumptions behind my perspective upside down. It was not about getting the world to dance to my tune. It really was about hearing the music emerging from the pages of the Bible and learning to dance in tune with it.