By Rev. Ryan T. Krauss
Pastor and artist Joe Castillo expressed his apologies to the Annual Conference early Saturday morning. “I can’t give you a sermon because you all give them bigger and better than I ever could,” he said. Castillo’s confession foreshadowed and resonated with a fear that paralyzes us all: “My story is boring; I have nothing exciting to share with the world.”
By sharing his talents as SandStory teller, he exhorted Conference delegates to remember that because they have connected their stories to what God is doing, all of those stories “become fabulous.” Our God moments, he said, are the narratives that can change people’s lives.
The first SandStory conveyed the fluid beauty of creation. Images of a bird hovering over the world blended into springtime flowers, tumultuous ocean life, flying birds, lions, elephants, and Adam and Eve. Castillo quipped that his art used to be the “greatest pickup-line ever.” Now the challenge for artists, as well as pastors, is to effectively communicate stories. After all, 30 percent of what we hear is retained, whereas 80 percent of what is seen and heard sticks with us.
Sharing his experience on America’s Got Talent, Castillo spoke of the challenges of life. On the show, he was given only 90 seconds to perform. In the struggles of everyday life, prayer is the most significant power. Castillo then shared his “God Bless the USA” SandStory in recognition of the God who raises all of us up. At the same time, He encouraged us to pray for all people, for our nation, for our leaders, our our president, and even our election candidates.
“The most frequent command of the Scriptures is,” Castillo said, “‘Do not be afraid.’” Our joyful heartbeat is sharing the universal truth that Jesus is for everyone. When Jesus intersects with our challenges, Castillo claimed, we can find freedom. He then presented a third SandStory set to the song “Feeling Good,” a song originally composed to address the plight of slavery. In the final moving segments of the story, a businessman has the shackles of his life broken.
Finally, Castillo shared a sacramental SandStory in which the Eucharist forms a pathway from earth to heaven via the cross. Castillo coupled this presentation with the pithy story of two manure scoopers who worked at an Orange Bowl parade. The first did his job with sullen shame. The second exuded a quirky panache, decorating his wheelbarrow and performing for the crowd. Likewise, Castillo reminded us that the outcome of each of our God-stories rests in part in the joy we choose to find in spite of adversity.