In every culture there are stories that are told over and over, echoing out into popular culture and our personal and corporate lives.
Although the details may change, the structure and meaning of the stories remain the same. Sometimes these stories are a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
There were star-struck lovers before Romeo and Juliet, but their tragic suicides have spurred more than one young couple on to ruin. Sometimes these stories are a kind of bond.
The American love of the underdog, which has its headwaters in the story of David and Goliath, unites our nation. Stories also give us hope and warn us of coming dangers.
Cancer survivors love to share their stories of victory, just like young moms love to share their labor and delivery horror stories.
The Tale of Two Marriages
Stories have enormous power not only to fire our imagination but to inform the way we think of our lives. The stories we hear become archetypes. Bigger than anyone person or story, they are how we interpret the stories we are a part of.
In America when two young people get married with no resources except love, we think it is romantic. Why? Our whole culture is suffused with a story of young impoverished couples moving up socially and economically.
In China when two young people get married with no resources except love, they call it a naked marriage. Why? They don’t have a story with a happy ending to match the situation. Not only does the story we tell affect the social reaction to the young couple, it changes the way they see themselves.
We become the story we know.
So the storyteller becomes a person of great power – the power to interpret lives.
Storytelling is a skill that yields success in sales, politics, parenting and ministry. All of these occupations require convincing someone that the world is the way we see it and that they should see it that way too.
Teachers do it too – just look at Jesus, the world’s greatest storyteller. The gospels frequently have him sharing a parable with the crowds to illustrate some principle about the Kingdom of God.
His stories are particularly simple, taking their basis from the life of agriculture and commerce around him. Yet they continue to resonate in the lives of listeners today.
His stories are stories with echoes. The prodigal son is a story that sneaks its way into all kinds of media – The Lion King, Heidi, a song by the Rolling Stones. (Luke 15)
The story of the Good Samaritan has a law named after it. (Luke 10)
His stories provide a structure into which we fit our own lives. When I am lost and alone, I imagine myself the one lost sheep my shepherd is searching for (Luke 15:4). Aware of my encroaching materialism, I become the man who built bigger barns, telling himself to eat, drink and be merry. (Luke 12:19)
His stories have the power to shape us, unite us, and inspire us.
We are the Storytellers of Today
Bloggers are a kind of modern storyteller. Sometimes we tell our own stories and sometimes we tell the stories of the world around us.
As I write, I pray that my story, the story I write and the story I live, is an echo of the story that Jesus Christ is still telling to our world.
In what ways are you a storyteller?
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