Monday, September 12, 2011

Tell me a story

I've been thinking all summer about the power of story. I think it started when we went to the FBC Woodway College Ministry reunion in June. You have to remember that the years we were uniting around were a powerful, formative time for everyone in the room. So how to capture that? Well, we spent the evening telling stories. We told stories around tables and one-on-one and in small clusters and as a large group. We told stories that made us laugh and stories that made us cry but the important thing was that we never had to explain it--the story said everything there was to say.

i was reminded of the power of story again when C and Boo and I went to the first midnight showing of the last installment of the Harry Potter series. We stood in an insanely long line with hundreds of kids who had been waiting for this moment for a decade. They ranged from about 16 to 22, so I guess they were technically young adults but trust me, this night they were kids. They ranged from hipster to socially awkward, costumed simply or elaborately, but they had come together for one reason: to share the end of the story together.

The Harry Potter is THE story of my kids' generation. When the first book came out, conservative Christians predictably saw a story about witchcraft and pointed a finger of condemnation. It's sad, I think, because the saga never was about witchcraft. It was about sacrificial love and about the terrible triumph of good over evil and about the kind of friendship that can change the world. Every single one of the kids who filled the theater that night were there because the story of Harry Potter had touched something deeply in them since they were children, had made them think about things as they grew up with Harry, and had changed something about how they saw the world.

All of us who were there--even the middle-aged tagalongs--knew how things were going to end. There was no longer any suspense. And yet, throughout the movie, we were surrounded by heartfelt sobbing and spontaneous cheering as these kids lived the story with the actors on the screen and with each other. And somewhere in the middle of all that, I had a thought: we failed this generation by not giving them a good enough story. There is no better story than the epic story of the gospel. In our commitment to modernity, though, we turned the gospel story into a systematic theology, better shared in outline form than in narrative. In all the world, is there a better story than the American story? And yet, how many of us had history classes that really conveyed the story of liberty in a way that made anyone want to listen?

I was reminded about the power of story again when we went to see Garrison Keillor the other night. I remember more of his Lake Wobegon stories than I do individual sermons, even though I've gone to church all my life. We started talking about Bill Cosby--we know some of his stories by heart--and about Tony Campolo. I said once that I wanted to have stories to tell like Campolo does and someone reminded me that in order to have stories like he has, I would have to live like he lives. That was a good point.

And then, sadly, I thought about the power of story again as I was glued to the TV for the last two or three days watching the remembrances of the events of 9/11. There are few things as powerful as those stories of people facing the unimaginable and responding with love and courage and faithfulness. As all good stories do, they make us think deeply about our own lives and what we value and why we're here.

And then, just this weekend, C and I were talking with a friend about the weekend's football games and she said, "I''m not really a fan of any one team. I root for the story." Don't we all?

If we want a better world, we have to tell a better story. We can start by telling our own stories with all the courage that it takes to tell a true story about ourselves. We can go back to the stories of the gospel and stop worrying so much if we and others have the theology right. We can tell the stories about our country--the good ones and the bad ones--without defensiveness or rancor. We can listen to the stories of others, even those with whom we passionately disagree or with whom we think we have nothing in common. I think it's the only hope we have.


Electric Monk said...

Great post. I recently did a video interview with my grandparents to try to collect the stories they have of their lives. It's astounding what a difference a couple of generations can make.

Janet said...

Amen, I could not agree more! Thanks for saying it so well.

Jim said...

Thanks for this. Very powerful reminder.