Once Upon a Time: A Parable about Presence

Once upon a time there was a girl who grew up in the land between two great rivers.  She was pretty happy, this girl.  She had a family that loved her and she lived in a town where everybody knew each other and most of the time loved each other.  And God was with the girl from the moment of her birth, loving her, guiding her and watching her every move.  And God was with her friends and family, and all those who helped her grow into a pretty decent young woman.

One day, like most girls her age, she had to make a decision about college.  Her family and the people of the town were excited and ready to help her with this momentous decision.

“You should major in business,” said the businessman.  “You’re smart and you could go far.”

“Oh, but I want to be an actress,” said the girl.  “I want to be on stage and perform all the great plays.”

“You’re crazy,” said the businessman.

One of her high school teachers said, “You really should become a teacher.  You’re good at it and it’s a really important job.

“Well,” said the girl, “maybe I could teach theater, but what I really want to do is direct a play on Broadway.”

“You’re not making any sense,” said the teacher.

The girl’s mother tried to be supportive.  “I suppose you could double major,” she said.

Her father wasn’t sure what to say, so he just said, “Theater major? What can you do with that?”

Some of her friends tried to warn her: “This is foolish!  Don’t do it.”

But the girl knew what she wanted to do and so she went to college and majored in theater.  She loved the theater and years later, she was so glad she spent her college years doing what she loved.

While she was at college, she met a handsome young prince of a guy in a punk rock band.  He wore a leather jacket and rode a Triumph motorcycle that leaked enough oil to solve a minor energy crisis.  He lived with some other punkers and bikers and he was really cute.  He turned out to be pretty nice.  And his family was nice.  And his friends, were, for the most part, nice.  And the girl fell in love.  And in the middle of her college years, she got married.

“You’re crazy,” said her acting teacher.

“You’re not making any sense,” said her roommate.

“This is foolish!  Don’t do it,” warned one of her sisters.

But the girl knew what she wanted and she was so in love that all the little details didn’t matter.  And God was with the girl from the moment she started college, loving her, helping her and watching her every move.  And God was also with her friends and family who were worried about the girl.

After college, the girl and the prince decided to move to San Francisco.  It was a cool place to live and they were sure there would be jobs aplenty.  Anyway, some of their friends lived there and really liked it.  So they had a yard sale and got ready to move.

The prince’s family shouted: “You’re crazy.  There are jobs right here.  We want our only son to stay close by.”

The girl’s famly cried:  “You’re not making any sense.  San Francisco is too far away.  We’ll miss you too much.  Don’t go.”

The girl’s directing teachers lamented, “This is foolish!  You need to go to grad school.  You could be a really good director.”

But the girl and the prince had other ideas.  And besides, they wanted to get out of that land between the two great rivers and see the big wide world.  And God was with the girl as she set out on this journey, loving her, supporting her and watching her every move.  And God was with her friends and family who reluctantly and very sadly watched her go.

When the so-called prince began to party too much and spent too much time hanging out, the girl tried to help him.  She tried and tried to make things better.  But one morning, she woke up so tired and so worn out, she realized she needed some help.  So she decided to go to church.  It had been a long time.  She found a church in the yellow pages and walked through a beautiful park to find it.  There she met a fairy godpastor who spoke with authority of God’s love for people in pain. The church members opened their homes and their hearts to this girl, even though they had never met her.  And when the girl realized she needed to leave the prince so she could have a healthy life, they supported her on her journey to the San Francisco courthouse where she got a California no-fault divorce.

“We don’t think you’re crazy,” Betty the lounge singer said as she hugged the girl.

“You’re making a lot of sense,” said Charles the choir director one night after rehearsal.

“It would be foolish for you to continue to try when the prince doesn’t want to change,” the fairy godpastor advised after many weeks of anguished conversation.

And God was with the girl, loving her and supporting her, even though some from her hometown would say that divorce is a sin.  And God was with her friends and family who grieved for her and for themselves because they couldn’t prevent her pain.

Even though she loved San Francisco, the girl wasn’t finished with her travels.  A friend invited her to come to Japan to work for a year. It seemed like a good thing to do, so she went

  • Even though some in her family thought she was crazy to go halfway around the world just to work,
  • even though in those economic times it didn’t make sense to take a contract job with no guarantee of employment after the contract ended.
  • even though some of her friends thought it was foolish to give up the great job she had with one of the nation’s top advertising agencies

But God was with her and God brought something really amazing into her world – a real prince.

I know, I know.  You’re probably thinking – here we go again.  This crazy girl and her princes.  But this was different. This was a prince who loved God almost as much as God loved the girl.  This prince loved the girl because she loved music and good wine, because she spoke Spanish and like to cook and eat good food.  He also loved her because he had a thing for tall blondes.  But mostly he loved her because she loved God as much as he did.  So they decided to get married.  And everybody nearly fainted from surprise.

There was dead silence on the other end of the phone in the land between two great rivers.

But no one said the girl was crazy, mostly because this was way beyond crazy.  This was so crazy it almost made sense.  How could it be that the girl had to run like a fool halfway around the world to find a Peruvian prince to marry?

Most everybody just shrugged and said:  “We give up!

But God was with the girl and the Peruvian prince, loving them, helping them and traveling with them all the way from Japan to Wisconsin, from Mexico City to Maryland, from New York to Illinois to Arizona.  When the girl went to seminary and lots of people thought she was crazy to leave her kids in the hands of day care providers, God was with her.  When the Peruvian prince got a job in New York, God helped the girl go, even though she really thought it was crazy to leave her wonderful home and her best friend to go to a city that was so overwhelming.  And God was with her best friend who cried and cried the day the girl left town.

When the girl began to work at a church in a run-down and pretty dangerous neighborhood, some of her neighbors though she was crazy and warned her not to walk up and down the street, extending the hand of friendship.  Some people told her it didn’t make sense to take such risks.  Some of her own congregation just thought she was a fool.  Even then, especially then, God was with the girl, walking right beside her, pointing out people in need, showing her how to connect, inspiring her to get involved but most of all loving her with every step she took.  And to this day, she feels that.

Most days, it is really hard for the girl to comprehend with God wants from her.  Some days, she doesn’t even really notice that God is there at all.  Often, God is just a kind of benign afterthought and when things don’t go the way she hopes, she wonders whether God is with her at all.

The good news for the girl is that even though she continues to stumble and blunder her way through her crazy, nonsensical, often foolish life, God is with her – abiding in her even as tries to abide in Christ.  In her wandering, in her worrying, God abides.  Whether she turns left or right, even when she walks straight into a wall of her own making, God abides, loving her, supporting her, saving her.  And that’s good news for us, too.

Amen.

4 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time: A Parable about Presence

  1. As I read I began to realize who “the girl” is. It was good to learn more about that girl. It was also a great parable with meaning for every “girl” and “prince.”

  2. I’m sorry, I find this icky. This is not a parable, for one thing. You’ve confused parabolic structure with fairy tale cadences. I find it really off-putting to hear a mature religious leader insist on naming herself as a “girl” and framing the men in her life as “princes.” The theology also strikes me as Disneyesque. “God was with me when I was born and God was with all the people who helped me become a great person and then I did all these brave things and God was with me and God was with my friends when they knew how much they’d miss me and God was with my prince when he found me and God was with me in leading me to all these poor folk I connect with so perfectly.” It seems that God is with people only for the purpose of shining light on, or relating in some way to the narrator. The self-centeredness and “girly” tone here seems contrary to your self-description as an edgy, challenging religious leader. I am sure that the experience of hearing this was much different for those who know you and your ministry, but it seems important to be able to hear how this comes across to a reading public.

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