Living the Story

Many scientists have made studies of the human brain and noted that we seem to be particular hardwired for stories. We love to tell and hear stories. But more importantly, we organize information around a story structure. The human interest and even need for story predates written history. As someone who’s studied English literature in college and does so still, it’s good to know that I’m studying the most important aspect of humanity. Okay, maybe that’s just what we English majors told ourselves…

The thing about stories is that they are more than a subjective telling of an objective truth, they are more than community-building exercises, and they’re certainly (usually) more than pretty art. As I mentioned, they are structural to how we process and organize information. This is important because it can help us understand when and how we encounter fundamental disagreements with other people. We can look at the same exact facts and yet fit them into radically different story structures. And the thing is that our own particular “story structures” are formed throughout our entire life. So we fit the facts into our structure based on a large chunk of our personal history.

Is it any wonder then that it sometimes seems as if we are talking past each other? Or that when we mention some particular word or concept, a person may act in a radically different way than we thought?

“I find the term ‘chicken’ insulting and offensive!”

As Christians, we are caught up in a story that transcends time. To use a cliche, it is “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” CS Lewis said that Christianity was the “myth” (i.e. story) made incarnate. I mean think about how the Bible begins. Not with a theological treatise about God’s relationship to created matter and humanity in particular. It starts with a story. “In the beginning…” And how does it end? With the end of time itself in a renewed and perfected creation. What does that mean for us? It means we exist between the front and back covers of the Bible. We are in the story. I’ve seen some people ask why the Bible is considered “closed.” Why don’t we add new books to it? Well, the Bible isn’t closed. The story is not over yet.

I think this is an aspect of Christianity that has perhaps been a bit submerged by other ways of communicating Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, theology, rational discourse, debate, etc. are all good ways of relating Christianity to others and explaining what it is that we believe. But I think perhaps that we tend to forget that we are primarily in a story. I’m sure all of you have seen plenty of movies. Well, there’s a time in every movie to explain one facet of the plot, and then there’s a time for simply acting. A movie that is nothing but explication is rather dull. Who has an interest in seeing a movie with nothing but talking?

That’s why we need to keep things in balance. Jesus sometimes preached to the crowds, sometimes fed them, but it seems that he most frequently told them stories. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Not, “Well the Greek word for ruler is ‘archon,’ therefore when you consult theological treatise IX.256.xvii you will see that…” Incidentally, I just had to put a book of theology down last night because it was exactly like my silly example there. “If, in accordance with the 1956 Covenantal Doctrine Statement…” Ugh.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like some rich guy who wanted to throw a party. But none of his rich friends wanted to come. They made a bunch of lame excuses. He had already bought the potato salad and didn’t want it to go bad, plus what was he going to do with light beer? So he sent a couple of the servers out into the streets with big signs saying ‘free food.’ A bunch of people who didn’t have homes and weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from showed up and enjoyed the rich guy’s generosity.”

Stories matter. They are integral to how we form our perception of the world. Discussion and debate are okay, but perhaps at some point we need to simply say: “Hey man, listen to this one!” or, “Why don’t you just come and watch my story for a while?” That might just be the best way for us to even do so little as simply understand one another.

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~ by crossingthebosporus on September 8, 2012.

One Response to “Living the Story”

  1. As an English Major myself, I too love a good story — and the Bible is just full of them. Too bad, Hollywood and most writers these days have seemingly forgotten that. Themes are developed within the scriptures that span the entire history of mankind. Seems sad that few are interested in discovering them again. Stories definitely matter but we are more interested these days in reality shows about nothing at all.

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