Two weeks back I “bit the bullet,” so to speak, and purchased LRU professor, Dr. Mindy Makant‘s recent work, The Practice of Story. I’d been waiting for a copy to be under $42. So when Amazon Smile listed a copy for under $32 dollars I snagged it, feeling happy with the purchase price, and happier that some portion of my bargain supported St. John’s Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Don’t you love when something you do creates global good—maximizing the positive effect? I do!
And most assuredly, in similar fashion, Makant’s work is a global good. Once it arrived in my home I set aside two days to read, almost felt guilty for taking time off to read; days off from active parish ministry have not come easily to me in recent months—so many in my congregation face suffering: cancer, age-related concerns, life transitions, the typical stuff that comes all wrapped up in living life and being human. Others outside of the congregation face these types of suffering, too. And in such cases as these, it makes no difference whether someone is or is not a congregation member, suffering means that the pastor is rightly called upon to support these dear ones as they seek to manage, to understand, to process, to forgive, to abandon resentments brought about as a result of the suffering. The suffering in my corner of creation directly relates to the sorts of matters explored in The Practice of Story. This book wrestles with these tough themes and carries a message on redemption and suffering that people need to hear and digest. Nothing in the message is soft-pedaled, nor feels like a voyage into worn-out platitudes that seek to make suffering out to be either noble, or righteous, or one of God’s chosen tools for formation. Makant does nothing of these sorts. (Thanks be to God!)
Her five chapter two hundred forty page work launches into the figurative waterways of how past suffering shapes future living. She navigates effectively through the treacherous space of either blaming God for it all or basely declaring there to be no God which is why we have it all. Her launch into the “Logic of Suffering” is candid, at various points even refreshingly affirming to those of us who truly feel and believe that, “suffering simply should not be.” Without trivializing or minimizing the effects of suffering, Makant makes a strong case that the suffering itself can be the primary driving wind that guides the metaphoric ship of our life rather than the guiding currents of redemption in effect and flowing within and around us. While never being harsh in her tone, she ardently asserts that the suffering can actually blind us to an awareness of redemption at work, perhaps even during and in parallel to the suffering. This is no doubt why she not only tells readers but shows readers how to look at their lives through the lens of story.
Her challenge to readers is to be aware of the “Reality of Redemption” in the present tense, not solely or primarily as a future hope. Too many understand and purvey that suffering will be redeemed at some future date which in effect conveys a dispassionate less than gracious message to those in present tense suffering, a message along the lines of, “Sucks to be you as you hurt, ache, languish; one day God will make it all better.” That is not a hope-filled message of grace. This is not the message of Makant who sees an embodied person being gathered together with others as “a people whose story is being re-narrated through participation in the story of Jesus.” (p.43) Thus all suffering is joined to the suffering of Jesus, placed firmly into the meta-narrative of Jesus, and this “subverts the ruptured community of sin and suffering.” (p.43) Taken to this place, Makant moves readers into considering the reality of redemption at work in the “as is-where is” present tense experience of life. Nowhere in Makant’s discourse is suffering made out to be less that what it is. At the same time though, she’d have readers consider the reality that redemption is right there with suffering occupying the same space, the same narrative, the same plot. The suffering and the redemption are in the same space. Perhaps there is no want of redemption, rather there is a deep want of the awareness of redemption. This is a hope-bearing message in that agency can shift from suffering to redemption, that past suffering can indeed be turned to a valuable and positive conclusion rather than serve as a damaging force that might presumably rule one’s life from the occurrence of suffering to the grave. Who wants to be trapped in such a story, ruled by the effects of suffering? Doesn’t one want a better narrative? Makant posits that we not only can have another story, but that we can be “storied” into another being.
The good doctor navigates readers into three ways of being story. It is insufficient to say that she navigates us into simplistically telling story, looking at story, and processing story. We are navigated much further and deeper into the power to be discovered in story. We explore what it means to be storied beings. Makant has readers looking at, “Narration, Embodiment, and Vocation,” all dimensions or aspects of story; what she calls, the “Remembering Self, Experiencing Self, and Anticipating Self.” These well-written, faithful, thoughtful chapters explore memory and how it is formed, what constitutes perception, how emotions write memories into us in specific ways. Makant walks step by step into what narration, embodiment, and vocation look like and how they all integrally connect to inform one’s story, to help one move past seeing things as they appear to be into seeing things as they truly are. She makes it clear that this multi-dimensional story process often takes place and finds maximum effect in community. For it is within community where truth is often discovered and that the truth points one to recognize that all human suffering and all human story is contained and re-narrated in the person and work of Jesus. One finds in this space who one is invited, called to be, finds that suffering is not to be celebrated, honored, lifted as God’s tool to form, not seen as anything other than it is. Within such a space suffering itself is disempowered, stripped of its agency to muffle truth, muzzle hope.
Whether or not Makant intends to do so, she takes readers to Jesus, points them to what she calls the “Redeeming Self;” a coming to terms space wherein one finds that even the most terrific, profound, foul suffering pales by comparison to the redemptive “imaginative” power of God the Father through Jesus the Son. Without taking one to and through Makant’s conclusions, suffice it to say, that much hope is found in seeing and being truth. One can learn to find redemption in the midst of the ugly. Makant’s practices make it feel like anyone has a chance to find this to be true—seems like grace. Too many already know that faith may falter. Hope may collapse. Still, love persists; specifically the redemptive love of God the Father whose imaginative skill at making things new has yet to fail. And therein lies the potential for healing.
On a personal note this work has produced within this reviewer a profound consonant tone. The work’s message makes one realize how far one has come, how far one still has to go, how one doesn’t go it alone. That’s a gift. As one who knows some measure of suffering, Makant has me asking myself about where I saw/see redemption in my own suffering story, has me finding and looking for God in places that I’d never considered, has caused me to remember where God placed “outside-of-the-family-outside-of-the-system” mothers and grandmothers, also some grandfathers, all around me—and somehow their deep, rich love made God’s redemption real to me even in suffering times. This realization came as I read Makant’s book.
This is the sort of hope that Makant gives readers the tools to see, the sort of hope and trust that the full-on-redemption-day’s coming, is even now being realized fully. That the Holy Spirit is bearing a super-abundant yield on the Father’s precious investment of the Son, deeply sown into human suffering. It cannot be otherwise, and that spells bad news for the agency of suffering which will cease as it is made new. Don’t you love when something creates global good—maximizing the positive effect? I do!