There is a synergy between story and meaning that gets played out every sermon and teachable moment in a religious house. We err when we confuse the holy relevance of the meaning with the immutability and sacredness of the story. The story is sanctified by the meaning conveyed, not by the other way around.

When we marvel at the beauty of the Sermon on the Mount or a parable of the Walls of Jericho falling down, it should be because of the interpretation given us by the speaker, and the interpretation of that which we ourselves process.

For that meaning, for that lesson, that take-away that we consider holy, we should be able to swap out the story without concern. We can update the parable and make it a sixteenth century anecdote, or a 23nd century projection, and as long as we can derive scared meaning from it, the stories are sacred.

Ultimately any lesson derived from a Biblical narrative can be distilled to essential behaviors and feelings. Reverence for God and family, devotion to a cause, inspiration to sacrifice, indignity over lying, repudiation of stealing, etc.

On the other hand, if we take the 2000 year old story ‘facts’ to be sacred in and of themselves, the behaviors that derive from them today might not be those intended by the original authors. For example, if one tribe was wronged by the other, and the version in the Holy Scriptures of one is taken to be the very word of God on the matter instead of being seen as a politicized spin by a biased stakeholder, then subsequent generations will be carrying a grudge long past what the original event merited, or what is really good behavior for the descendants of either party today.

In other words, the ‘sacred driver’ is not the story, but the meaning. When these get turned around, and you have a recipe for majoring on the wrong points and having an unholy effect. The faithful internalize divisive behaviors instead of inclusiveness and tolerance.

So when I visit a church with a friend, I look to take away great lessons regardless of the delivery vehicle. If the preacher gets hung up on doctrine and defending it for its own sake, we’re not taking away any good meaning. Instead, we’re learning to preserve an organization. No finite human can really make authoritative statements about God’s nature. Those who assert they can are really just asserting a privilege they want others to pay for somehow.

In the same manner, if the values being presented are about personal prosperity and the blessings of giving to the church, again we’re not really communicating sacred truth. The so-called canonical stories, when used to justify an organization’s prosperity, are really being defamed. They are no longer sacred. That is the irony of the prosperity church: the so-called ‘word of God’ is being made worse than secular, it’s being made consumerist.

So we see that story, in of itself, is neither sacred nor secular. Sacred are the values intended, and what we take away, values that are programmed into us via story telling and our attentive, imaginative listening. The utility of stories in this function of sacred programming is what makes the story sacred as well.

— Roy Zuniga
Langley, WA

copyright (C) 2014 roy zuniga