Students' Corner Blog - Gregory Stevens

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 10:17AM

Students' Corner Blog - Gregory Stevens MDiv Student Gregory Stevens reflects on the transformative power of storytelling

Students Corner | Gregory Stevens

As a Christian I find myself located in a long history of storytellers. It’s through narrative that our tradition has testified to God’s dynamic relationship with the world. From the very genesis of Genesis our tradition has envisioned God as a hovering Spirit luring creation from the depths of chaos; as a Mother nursing her new born child; as a forceful Father waging war on His enemies with omnipotent power; and as a lowly nomadic peasant whose embodied vision for the world radiates the reflective brilliance of Divine love.

In our Scriptures we’ve managed to collect stories, letters, songs, poems, and unfinished manuscripts that tell the stories of burning bushes, mysterious talking clouds, drunken patriarchs, and angel sponsored wrestling matches. It is precisely this rich patchwork of narrative that gives us budding theologians the authority to experiment with interpreting and re-telling stories of God’s creative transformation in the present day. It can be quite the frightening task to stand on the shoulders of such story-telling giants. Fear and frustration filled my mind as I stared aimlessly at the Genesis 18 passage I was assigned in Dr. Kathy Black’s preaching class. It’s the classic tale of Sarah laughing at God’s outlandish claim that she’d be having a child in her very late age. Every interpretation, commentary, book, and blog I read about the text made it very clear that amidst all the nuanced details of the text, the moral of the story was simple: God can do anything.

But as a student of Process Theology, I wasn’t satisfied with that interpretation because if God really is all-powerful in this classic sense, God and I need to talk; when “almighty” is in Her job description, God is the one to blame for evil in the world.
It felt as though I was being mocked by the barren white screen of my word processor - but then it hit me: screaming from the pages of our Bible was a woman who questioned God with rolling laughter.

The stories we read and re-tell of Sarah are ones of courage, boldness, and strength in a time when women were by no means treated as equals. She is considered the Mother of Israel, a beautiful Matriarch who prized her independence and often took matters into her own hands – like the time she got bored waiting on God and suggested Abraham have a child with her servant Hagar.

Struck by the rumblings of an ancient feminism, I was immediately drawn to the women in my life who, like Sarah, have nurtured in me a similar sense of courage, boldness, and strength. I was reminded of my good friend and United Universalist student Meghan Rohburn whose courage to express herself has taught me to love myself amidst all my shortcomings; I was reminded of my classmate Stephanie Rice, a soon to be United Methodist minister, whose presence radiates with tangible love; I was reminded of Dr. Helene Slessarev-Jamir whose lectures restored my hope in the role religious communities play in the transformation of American Democracy; and finally I was reminded of my boss Noemi Ortega, the Director of Alumni/ae relations, who has the innate ability to draw a deep seated greatness out of everyone she encounters.

Sarah’s character suddenly seemed to jump from the pages of the Bible coming to life through the many women I so admire. Tears began to fill my eyes as I realized that the students, faculty, and staff of Claremont School of Theology are unique in their continued affirmation of all people no matter their race, class, gender, sexuality and/or religious tradition. You see, we live in a country that prides itself in “freedom, liberty, and justice for all” but in reality it’s mostly white, wealthy, straight, Christian men who experience these ideals. For example, each year African American women make 64 cents to the dollar their male counterparts earn; for women of Hispanic/Latina origin it’s even worse at only 55 cents. Raising the minimum wage would help curb this disparity. Women make up 55% of the labor force such an increase would benefit. This small pay-raise would also help reduce child poverty rates because 33% of affected women are raising children. And that’s barely a taste of the sexist patriarchy that permeates our political culture – more often than not being advanced by politicians who are quick to tout their Christian identity. In some mysterious way, the act of storytelling was becoming quite subversive.

As my sermon began to take shape, it felt as if I was participating in our ancient tradition of story-telling, acting much like the Hebrew authors who took it upon themselves to interpret and tell of the incredible ways God was at work in the world. If I were writing the scriptures of today, I would narrate the lives of students, professors, and staff here at Claremont School of Theology as they boldly defy the androcentrism of American political and religious culture, waving the flag of God’s infinitely inclusive love.

With four semesters down and two more to go, I am once again reminded that Claremont School of Theology is not only an institution of higher education, but also a prophetic expression of God’s creative transformation of the world.

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