Inciting Incidents and The Wilderness

A few years ago, my friends and I were obsessed with the Donald Miller book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It was our dreamer’s bible and go-to. Something that always stood out to us was this idea of an “inciting incident”; it was so amazing to us that there was something in life that could turn the lever and incite transformation, or open a new pathway to life. This is the same term I cannot help but think of when it comes to my “new” pathway in life — this reorganization of faith.

As mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Jonathan Martin. Nearly everything he says leaves me curious and hopeful. He recently shared his sermon on the moment of Jesus in the wilderness. This, of course, is appropriate given the time of year we are in — Lenten Season. Martin re-shaped the story and helped me see that Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the Devil. How interesting is that? Jesus wasn’t abandoned, but he was led. Martin dove into the notions behind our own times of wilderness and wanderings. Something I feel that I have been in for some time.

I can’t help but think of this idea of wilderness as an inciting incident. Where God is leading us … and also meeting us. I feel this so deeply. In my wilderness, I have been tempted to remain stuck in my pessimism, unhealthy critic, and the need to be against. My temptation has been to be against traditional Church values and to pursue my ideal church where no human is turned away for who they are. And I think that that’s okay and healthy. However, there comes a point where this ideal grows its own head and becomes an all-consuming, all-confusing headache. To be against is not to be open-handed with what could be, could still be, what is happening and still growing. Because of this, I have felt I have spoken more about what I don’t like, and I think it’s now time to stop.

Maybe the wilderness is where we discover new things about God and new things about ourselves. Even though it feels like we are the step-children several times removed from the Church, this casting into the great Unknown will, ultimately, not leave us feeling alone. The Lenten season is our greatest reminder of what it takes to face warped scripture (because even the Devil knows scripture), and still stand firm. A reminder that our hunger for more, for days on end, teaches us more about who we are and what we are made of. It makes me curious if those of whom identify as radical Christians, or Republican hard-right Christians, have ever been through their own wilderness? Because if this is what it takes to know God, Jesus, and Spirit more deeply, to feel this re-birth in the re-writing, we rebels might be onto a good, good thing.

Donald Miller describes inciting incidents as “[H]ow you get (characters) to do something. It’s the doorway through which they can’t return, you know. The story takes care of the rest.” Whether through great love or great suffering, these “doorways” are along our path whether we like them or not. There is a large portion of us in the post-evangelical world who are struggling to find our place again. Even asking “What do we do with Jesus and/or the Bible now?” Our narratives — the ones we have known our whole lives and have brought great meaning to us — are in a re-write. This re-write is the wilderness; it is the inciting incident. My question to myself and to you is how do we use this time well? How can we begin to move from the position of against or unhealthy critic to celebrate the small victories along the way? Like you, I want to trust this story in taking care of the rest.


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