Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sit Back and I’ll Tell You a Story

No matter who we are or where we are from, stories have shaped our lives – our understanding of ourselves, our culture, our dreams. Stories inspire, educate, encourage, thrill, frighten, and reassure us. Stories make us who we are.

Yet, what of the Christian story? You know the one – God creates a bunch of stuff. Satan and then people try to ruin it. God jumps in and tries to fix things by only rescuing those who understand and accept his actions. Everything else goes to Hell. Literally. At least, these are the bare bones of the story, the parts that we memorise for gospel presentations, the parts of the story that can be easily distilled into precepts that can be believed. Or rejected. But often, despite our love of the propositions and conclusions extracted from the story, we are secretly ashamed of the story. This shame is only reinforced when the world we desperately wish to speak to flatly rejects our propositions or “Truth” as narrow-minded, old-fashioned, lacking compassion, and arrogant. The thought that, since they don’t like the ‘Truth’ the story must be bad, begins to for in our subconscious. And so, while we believe that it is a true story and we know it is meant to be a “Good” story, we remain embarrassed by it.

At first glance, the idea that we are ashamed of our story may seem ridiculous; this story is, after all, what we all believe to be true. The problem is not with us, but with the world that has become such an evil place in recent years.

But do you remember the last time you were asked if you really believe good people go to hell simply because they don’t believe in Jesus? While I believe this is true, a part of me always squirms as I try to explain how this apparently terrible belief is actually compassionate and gracious. Do not misunderstand, we are not to back down from what we know to be “the truth”. But, when sharing the great story of God’s grace I am not, in any way, overwhelmed with the same excitement, passion, conviction, and enthusiasm as you will hear in me when I tell you about the latest novel, poem or film I’ve enjoyed. In fact, none of these emotions even register above the fear, nervousness, and sense of inadequacy. Perhaps even more disturbing is that these euphoric emotions seldom overtake me when talking with fellow Christians, among whom there ought to be no fear but only the shared joy of recounting a great story experience.

Imagine the last time you left a really good movie with friends. What happens as you leave the theatre? At first, everyone is exuberant, repeating their favourite parts. Then comes the critical discussion of exactly why it is so good. Later, a bit more quoting and laughter, maybe a bit of swooning. Finally, the enthusiastic review to anyone who will listen, complete with the demand that they go view the film as quickly as possible. Then, even years later, you find that you and your friends still talk about this film, still quote it, still pull it out and watch it with some regularity, still recommend it to everyone who hasn’t yet seen your “classic” film.

The Gospel does not provoke this response from most Christians. The problem must be with the story. Or, more correctly, with how we have been told and how we tell the story. For centuries some artists have been convinced of the quality of this story, have known that this divine drama is strong enough to be told and retold, painted, interpreted, danced, sung, designed, filmed. We read the story clearly in Dostoevsky, Eliot, Tolkien. We hear the story in Handel, Bach, U2. We even see it in its bloody agony in a Mel Gibson movie. And, for a moment, our hearts sore, knowing that they have glimpsed eternity.

Unfortunately, for most of us, the story has been bled for theological, practical, and historical reasons, leaving us with a pale, anaemic, impotent invalid of a tale that we hide in a darkened room like some humiliating relative. If we are going to share our great story with the world, we must first rescue it from notional distillation and find again the beauty that seizes hearts and compels the world to listen.


Anonymous said...

Yes, very well put! Certainly Christ never taught in 2 dimensional tones.

vj said...

i totally agree...story is central and is the most powerful tool for passing on critical info...through story, each generation discovers who they are and how they fit.
But what happens when story dna is lost?...what happens when a culture forgets the power of story?...what will serve as my compass then?!? - marketing?, gurus? experience? silence?...we need to rediscover the power of story.

chelsea said...

Oh all so true! What will it take to get us talking about the story, the truth, with that same passion?!