Often, people are rather dismissive of stories. “He is just making that up,” someone might say, as though something that is made up is inherently untrue. But as anyone who has ever gotten goosebumps from reading a good book, or cried during a movie (guilty on both counts!) can tell you that there is a big difference between something that is imaginary and something that is false. In my experience, some of the “truest” things I have ever seen or read have been fictional. James Wood puts it well, in How Fiction Works. He writes, “we encounter scenes and moments and perfectly placed words in fiction and poetry, in film and drama, which strike us with their truth, which move and sustain us, which shake habit’s house to its foundations”.
For example, if you do not shed a tear when they have to shoot Old Yeller after he has just SAVED THE KID’S LIFE, you need to check your pulse. And if you are not moved by the beauty and truth of the plight of Gregor Samsa when he wakes up as a bug, and his first thought is “Oh no! I am going to be late for work!” then we are no longer friends.
In Africa, storytelling is one of the most effective, and most appreciated methods of communicating. People here, in general, are still very connected to their roots in the oral tradition that we in the West lost a long time ago. Among the Hausa there is a very strong tradition of the singer-storyteller who sings the praises of the Sultan or chief. I am really interested in learning more about the history of it, which shouldn’t be too hard, it is everywhere. They even play it on the radio.
If we look at the teachings of Jesus, we see that 1/3 of his teachings were in parables, in stories, and they are full of both beauty and truth, even though they are made up. I think we forget that sometimes. I remember one time pointing out to someone visiting Israel the “Good Samaritan Inn” on the side of the road that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho. They asked, “So is this really where the inn was?” They had already been in the country for about a week, and so they were already wise to the fact that not all the historical/biblical sites in Israel are genuine, and that sometimes there is more than one location for the same site (I am looking at you Garden Tomb/Church of the Holy Sepulchre!). So I understood and appreciated their guarded optimism about the inn. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. However, they totally ignored the fact that the Good Samaritan story never really happened. And yet, the truth of that story cuts through the butter of our hypocrisy and self-righteousness like a hot knife, and resonates centuries after it was told.
We recently looked at the Parable of the Soil, in Mark 4:1-13 which is a story that I have heard many times before. Usually people interpret it as Jesus saying that we need to spread the word about him all over, and that there will be many different reactions to it. But someone said something that I really liked, and hadn’t ever thought of before. They said, “We are the soil.” I love it.
Stories are important, they help us make sense of the world around us, as we view our lives through the lenses of narrative. Another important way of telling a story is through verse, so (typically), I wrote a short poem on the Parable of the Soil. Here it is:
When you look with your eyes, may what you see be clear,
When words are spoken, don’t just listen but hear.
So that you may understand, and grow and learn,
Live far away from sin, and from evil turn.
May the seed of truth find a home in your ground,
And guard you from evil, wherever it is found.
May it’s root grow deep and strong in your dirt,
So that trouble will not shake it, nor pain or hurt.
May it not be choked off by the riches of the earth,
For they are false and shallow, temporal and without worth.
Well-watered, may your life bring forth much fruit,
May justice, love and mercy spring up from your root.