If I say: “I am reading great book.” How might your respond? You might say, “So what?” Or you might say, “Oh really. What’s it about?” Then I would try to describe it.
Sometimes that is easy, sometimes hard, sometimes impossible. We say, “I can’t explain it. You’ll just have to read it yourself.”
This is the challenge of describing a story. Narratives can carry many layers and nuances all at once. But we can only describe one thing at a time.
Description can never to justice to narrative. For example, “I’m reading a great book.”
“What’s it about?”
“About a boy and a runaway slave who float down the Mississippi River on a raft and have many adventures along the way.”
Is that what Huckleberry Finn is about? Yes, in a way. But mostly no. Because it is so much more than that.
When people ask, “what is it about,” what they are really wondering is: “Should I be interested, is this worth my attention?” “Does this story connect with my story?”
Our lives are stories. Some once said, “Every good story has a beginning, a muddle and an end.” Most of us feel like we are somewhere in the muddle. We are caught up in a complex interplay of circumstances, geography, other characters whose stories interlock with ours. And we are characters in their stories, as well.
What if you came up to me and said, not “I’m reading a story,” but “I’m living a story.” And I ask you, “Oh really, what’s it about?” What would you say? What is your story about?
You might say, “That’s not a fair question. You can’t reduce my life to a few descriptive phrases and categories.”
This is the great challenge of preaching. Sadly most preaching is a process of turning narrative (stories) into propositions (ideas). And its like turning wine into water.
All the time our listeners are asking: “But how does this relate to my life story?” Successful stories are the ones that connect with our stories. Strong stories not only connect, they have the power to shape our lives. Stories are what hold cultures together.
The crisis we face in America, and indeed all of what remains of Western civilization, is not primarily political or economic. It is that we no longer have a common story that unites us and points us toward a common good.
Just the opposite: Our stories now divide us by stirring up envy and hatred and suspicion. They point us toward evil and death.
As Christians our lives are part of the greatest, truest adventure of all, the redemption of a lost world through our Lord Jesus Christ. But for most of us that grand narrative is fragmentary at best, and not really connected.
Now more than ever we need to immerse ourselves not just in theological truth of Scripture, but in the story.
As I was collecting these thoughts a fragment of an old hymn from my childhood came to mind, and with the help of google I found it.
Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.
Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in.
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.
Tell me the story softly, with earnest tones and grave;
Remember I’m the sinner whom Jesus came to save.
Tell me the story always, if you would really be,
In any time of trouble, a comforter to me.
Tell me the same old story when you have cause to fear
That this world’s empty glory is costing me too dear.
Yes, and when that world’s glory is dawning on my soul,
Tell me the old, old story: “Christ Jesus makes thee whole.”
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