31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 14, 2018
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
“You’ve been telling yourself the wrong story about who you are in your own story.” (Judge Victoria Pratt, Fresh Air, 8/6/18)
“You’ve been telling yourself the wrong story about who you are in your own story.”
A number of years ago, the city of Newark, New Jersey, and the Center for Court Innovation joined together to create Newark Community Solutions, a court program that provides alternative sentences to low level offenders. Newark Community Solutions surveyed their community and asked people what appropriate consequences would be for offenses like disturbing the peace and traffic violations. The community of Newark’s response was that instead of fines and jail time, they would like to see people get counseling, get jobs, become better community members.
So that’s what Newark Community Solutions does. They work with judges and the justice system to provide alternative sentences, programs that help people be better community members. So when Judge Victoria Pratt sat on the bench, she had the ability to send people to jail, to fine them, or to send them for community service or counseling. Sometimes, she even required them write an essay to examine their lives and their choices.
When Judge Pratt spoke on NPR’s Fresh Air, she shared an example of how powerful these essays could be. The woman assigned to write this particular essay started out this way, “I’ve been suffering with a fatal disease for twenty four years, and because of that diagnosis, I lost hope, and I turned to drugs.” The woman then detailed the downward spiral that had caused her to be mixed up in the criminal justice system.
At the end of her essay, Judge Pratt said to her, “Do you know that you beat that disease 23 years ago?… You can’t have a fatal disease for 24 years….You’ve been telling yourself the wrong story about who you are in your own story.”
The woman was not a victim. She was the victor, but she had never seen herself that way. She had never thought about her life that way, and when she finally did, she cried – a cathartic, healing cry, because she hadn’t seen who she was, until that moment, not the victim but the victor.
In our Bible passage this morning, Joshua wants his community to know who they are. Joshua, who was the people’s leader after Moses died, is about to die himself, and he does not want this community to be telling themselves the wrong story about who they are. So he gathers them all together, and he tells them their story. He tells them how God led their ancestor Abraham to a new land; how God fulfilled God’s promise and blessed Abraham with a son and grandsons and great-grandsons; how God sent Abraham’s family to Egypt so they would survive the drought; how God brought their people out of Egypt, out of slavery, back to the land God had promised Abraham. And how even though there were already people living in that land, God blessed them with it.
Joshua, at the end of his life, after having been faithful to God and a faithful leader of God’s people, wants his community to know their true story – that they are loved by God; they are led by God; they are blessed by God.
The woman in Judge Pratt’s courtroom was telling herself the wrong story about herself. Were the Israelites doing the same? Were they telling themselves that they were victims instead of victors? Were they fretting about what they didn’t have instead of being grateful for what they did? Were they so worried about the details of daily life that they forgot God had always been and would always be with them?
There are lots of things we can do on Sunday morning: go out to breakfast with friends, get involved with youth or adult sports, even just sleep in. There are lots of other choices we can make, so why do we choose worship?
Because it is here that we hear our story, our true story, that we are each children of God, loved by God, led by God, blessed by God.
It is here that we hear again and again and again that God has always been and will always be with us.
It is here in the midst of Christian community we are reminded of all that we have, gifts and talents to share with others, the ability to make the world a better place.
It is here we have the opportunity to make connections, to know people for who they truly are instead of caricatures of red state, blue state, liberals, conservatives, Yankee fan, Red Sox.
And when we hear our story, when we know our true story- that God is always with us; that we are created with amazing gifts and loved for just who we are, we can live free of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, worry. We can live lives of trust; we can live in peace; we can live lives of connection – with God and others.
When we tell ourselves our true story, we can be our best selves; we can live our best lives; we, too, can joyfully serve the Lord, creating families and communities of wholeness, love, and peace.