Wednesday, October 26, 2005

storytelling

One of the unique things about the human race is storytelling... It's something instinctive. Olivia, my toddler, already knows how to find a book, carry it to the red armchair in the living room, and claw at my lap until I lift her up to sit and read together for awhile. Elliot, at the age of three-and-a-half, has already developed the art of storytelling for himself -- singing self-composed songs, inventing self-conceived stories -- yet he continues to crave the stories of others as well. Morning, afternoon, and evening, it's common to hear, "Daddy, tell me a story!" And of course he's not satisfied with the hundreds of books on the shelves -- no, he wants to hear fresh stories, instantaneous stories, interactive stories featuring his circle of acquaintance. Not Pulitzer-prizewinner material, mind you -- just everyday adventures, like the other night at bedtime when Elliot asked me to "Tell the story about Elliot watching a video and eating a snack"... Children (at least my children) seem to just instinctively love stories. And well, I love stories, too...

As a church, Zolder50 has been enjoying a series called "Four Stories" -- a metaphor for our lives, our community, our faith. Four friends from our community sharing their real-life stories of what God is doing in the world today -- celebrating the spiritual community that God has developed through the church meeting on the fourth story of an old canal-side house in central Amsterdam -- drawing our inspiration and power from the original four gospels that share a four-fold perspective into the story of Jesus... And I am overwhelmed and invigorated by the succession of stories. Absolutely, there is power in storytelling.

This is something to remember -- a rope to grasp as we heave ourselves out of the pit of literalism, legalism, and lectures that so often dominates and defines our existence as Christians in 21st Century Western culture. It occurs to me that we typically relegate church stories to placement among rigid, highly practical classifications: an illustration of Biblical principles, or simple contextualization of theology... But I mourn the fact that we often fail to esteem stories for their self-evident meaning and value. Our stories are not just Bible illustrations, but in a sense the actual story of God's working in the 21st Century! They're not just contextualization of theology, but essentially the study of God itself!

Storytelling is a mission. Jesus was the ultimate storyteller -- a living and breathing antithesis of stodgy literalism, legalism, and lectures. And when the Holy Spirit filled Jesus' followers with His power and life, they understood the experience as God's fulfillment of his promises for young men to be awakened to new visions, for old men to be caught up in brilliant dreams, and for all God's servants to use whatever means necessary to identify and renounce societal evils in proclamation of the rule of God! Our calling is to live as visionaries, dreamers, and powerful voices in our culture -- and this seems much more in line with a life of storytelling (and by this, I include poetry, novels, short-stories, blogging, pod-casting, songwriting, painting, sculpting, photography, and a thousand other forms of art) rather than a life of literalism, legalism, and lectures.

Like my son, we need to hear stories that include us and explain our existence. We need to create fresh stories, instantaneous stories, interactive stories featuring our circles of acquaintance. They don't have to have a spoken moral to the fable (although it's probably there). There doesn't have to be a four-point outline. They don't even have to be especially well-polished or refined... But we cannot escape or ignore the art of storytelling.

3 Comments:

At 2:35 PM, Blogger chanchanchepon said...

Well said!

Coming from an oral culture, stories are what shape and guide our lives.

As you are probably familiar, N. T. Wright once said, "Tell a person what to do, and you will change their life for a day, tell a person a story, and you will change their life."

I don't know if you've ever been around those people who like to re-enact favorite scenes and quotes from movies, but I have a theory that they are just enacting the traditional role of storyteller, reminding and re-telling the familiar stories of our culture for laughter, for healing, and for the transformation of all.

 
At 9:39 AM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

Thanks for your feedback, Billy. I actually had not previously heard the quote from N.T. Wright, but it's a great summary statement of my thoughts on the matter. I did a teaching at Zolder50 this past weekend about Storytelling, and I even used the quote at the end of the teaching!

I also think your theory about people who love to quote movies (this is a classic form of interaction between my brother and me) is very insightful. I would agree that there's just something about our minds that gravitates toward stories -- and quoting films would seem to be a very appropriate 21st Century adaptation of Storytelling...

 
At 2:56 PM, Blogger chanchanchepon said...

I did a series on the story of God at our campus church this past month as well. The better we know the story, the better we can live out our place in the story. I think story is the best way to talk to people about God, and we need to become better storytellers.

Speaking of stories, I also quoted you in my last sermon. We are going through the seven deadly sins, and your comparison of de Wallen and Wall Street made for a great connection to our upcoming mission as well as a very telling instance of greed in American society.

 

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