I feel as if I should be beating dust off covers and brandishing a broom to collect the lingering spiderwebs. It has been more than a little while since last post. It’s time to finally round off that four-part series on stories.
We need to tell good stories. We need to tell them well. Not only does it matter that we grasp God’s big story our place in it, but we need to thoughtfully consider how the other stories we tell could be told so as to reflect that reality. As previously noted, this makes the storyteller and his story important.
“So, what’s your story?”
“I was diagnosed when I was thirtee-“
“No, no your real story.”
“I am quite un-extraordinary.”
“I reject that out of hand.”
John Green’s novel “The Fault in Our Stars” is – so I am told – a moving and beautiful story. The above quote isn’t quite from the book: it’s from the movie trailer released a couple of weeks ago. Have a look here. I haven’t read it yet (it’s close to the top of my pile), so I know only the broad sketches of the story, and in some sense it is uncomplicated: two teenagers, both suffering from cancer, fall in love. This interaction touches on a significant aspect of The Fault in Our Stars: it engages with people and their stories beyond the obvious questions that everybody asks. Augustus, as he stares at Hazel and asks for her story, wants to know who she really is. He isn’t on about her disease, but about her.
As I have been writing about the importance of stories, I found this fascinating. Augustus here tells us something that the Christian would do well to heed – your story is important. Hazel’s cancer story is not her whole story. If stories are important in understanding and identity, then how our personal story fits in with the stories of other Christians is important. More fundamentally, what is the story of God? Our faith is built upon stories, and I would say it is impossible to be a Christian without some concept of the story of God and humanity. This works itself out in a few ways.
It’s hot, and the three men are tired. Two of them are men, anyway. The third is much younger, yet he has seen a harder time than many would in their lifetime. He has just finished telling his story. The others are incredulous. Surely this tale cannot be real.
[Before I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that this post follows this one from a few days ago. I’ve been thinking about stories and their significance recently, and some of those reflections are making their way into blog posts. These first two are a tad more abstract. The next one, maybe two, will hopefully bring it back to the real world. Basically the point of the first post was that stories are powerful and have real impact on those who engage with them. Stories are an essential tool of making sense of information. Because of this, it helps us make sense of events, history, and our own experiences and identity. The power of stories can be anything from the enthralling tales in Tolkien’s fantasy to didactic myths and fables to singing a story in song. Even a simple metaphor with descriptive language could be seen as use of story to illuminate a more abstract idea (“Reaching new heights like a bird in a spaceship”). Now you’re up to speed – read on!]
Very little has stuck with me from my 18 months of Communications and Journalism. Snippets about newsworthiness, communication theory, feature writing and so on come back every now and then. One lecture, however, sticks in my head. It was the first lecture in a subject for my Journalism major, called “Storytelling, Narrative and Features.” Well-known journalist David Dale came in and set out telling us about the story of stories. What followed was arguably the most interesting lecture. David told of Chaucer, a storyteller paid in wine. He outlined how good feature journalism was doing the same as fiction: gathering ideas, doing detailed research and then telling a story. It’s about virtual reality – creating the scene that can’t be immediately seen, or created by others. The characters tell the story. David suggested that despite the common motif, storytelling may be the world’s oldest profession: perhaps some primitive man offered to sacrifice a piece of his dinner to hear his neighbour tell the tale of his hunting that day. Regardless, a good story enthrals the audience. What’s more, David managed to do that as he spoke – the story of stories was engaging, and created in us a high view of the task ahead of us.
There’s something powerful in a good story. Continue reading