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CCE Corner – Shaped by Story

March 29th, 2023

Mrs. Tellinghuisen returns to the CCE Corner with another reflection inspired by the Calvin Worship Symposium and the March 6 Vital Worship Grant event.

We are story-shaped people who live in a story-shaped culture. Let’s withhold any “that’s good” or “that’s bad” judgment for the time being (spoiler: it depends on the stories we hear and tell) and simply acknowledge the reality. Everyone and everything tells a story. For all that we see around us has history, context, function, and purpose. When we walk through a neighborhood, we are not just seeing houses and sidewalks and trees and utility lines. We are seeing a story. When we stroll through an art exhibit, we aren’t just seeing pictures and sculptures and artifacts. We are seeing a story. When we meet a person for the first time, we aren’t just exchanging words and social pleasantries with someone. We are seeing a story incarnate.

Granted, we don’t see the whole story. To know more about that neighborhood, you’d need to talk to some of the neighbors and research the history of the city that led to that area being developed. To learn more about the area or people group featured in the art exhibit, you would have to read some books, take some classes, or even travel to that location. To learn more about another human? Well, you would need years together. And even a lifetime together wouldn’t tell you everything. (You’d probably learn more about yourself along the way too!)

Stories are involved and complex. They take time to tell. But we like facts, don’t we? “Just the facts, ma’am,” said Dragnet’s Sergeant Friday. Facts are simple, obvious, clear-cut. Unless they aren’t. One need only flip through the various news channels to see that we don’t always agree on facts. But you don’t have to take the path that leads to flat-out relativism to recognize that facts are always internalized and interpreted before we inject them into our conversations and contexts. If this sounds at least a little disconcerting, it is. How can we live in community (familial, local, national, global) if we are “my story is what I know” kind of people? On our own? Not so well. But there is a good answer for this, and hopefully your mind is already going there.

Before we talk about that answer, let’s look for the good in the fact that we all have “my story” and the fact that we are story-shaped storytellers and—story listeners—at our core. Consider the different answers to these “simple” questions.

Where do you live?

That little brick house over there.

or . . .

That little brick house over there, which happens to be right next to our first house, which we moved into during a raging thunderstorm. We ran inside as quickly as we could and didn’t dare grabbing any of the boxes. The power had gone out on the street too. Completely empty, completely dark, completely silent. So we just sat on the floor and watched the storm. And then . . .

Do you have any pets?

Yes, one dog.

or . . .

Ugh, I did. Once. I went to the animal shelter just to look. I’d heard a litter of puppies had been born there. Most of the puppies had been adopted, but two were left. One was sleeping soundly while its sibling was climbing on it and biting its ear. And guess which one I had to pick? That dog . . .

How are you?

Fine.

or . . .

Oh, so blessed and so thankful! I have to tell you . . .

Could you imagine that storm and what you might have done if you were sitting in an dark, unfurnished home just watching lightning flash across the sky? Could you picture that little puppy causing all sorts of trouble? Could you hear the testimony of praise and gratitude about to spring forth? That’s because stories invite you in. Yes, people can share stories in selfish and self-serving ways, but the story itself is always seeking a guest. More than a guest—a partner. Because the story invites you and inspires you (hopefully) to join the storytelling too. Because you’ve watched a storm too, had a naughty puppy too, had your own story of grace and gratitude too.

Ultimately, story should never be self-focused because stories are never about ourselves. They are always cooperative. Even if I stood alone in a room by myself for hours, something in the environment would impact me, cause me to wonder, leave me changed. For a person of faith, we would say, instead, Someone.

Through our Vital Worship Grant this year, we were pleased to invite Jennifer Holberg (Calvin University) to Trinitas earlier this month. Professor Holberg presented a workshop to the staff after school on March 6 and then gave an evening talk entitled, “Complicated Narratives and Important Failures.” Thank you to everyone who attended. There was a banquet of food for thought (which we hope to share with you through more CCEC’s). In the staff workshop, Professor Holberg shared this quote from Frederick Buechner:

“It is well to remember what the ancient creeds of the Christian faith declare credence in. . . . For better or worse, it is a story. . . . It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life’s story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others’ lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling.” (Frederick Buechner. Beyond Words. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004: 379.)

We are story-shaped because we are shaped by story—God’s story. We are invited into it. Always. And we are invited to share it. With all. But especially with the little ones who are growing up in a world of massive amounts of information and misinformation. How will they know which stories are nourishing and which ones aren’t? We have to teach them about the intention of the invitation. What is the story inviting you to? What is it inviting you to be? And we have to teach them that there is a source of truth—who is at the foundation of each story of truth—inviting us in, welcoming us around the table to dine and listen, to get lost in His story so that we may find ourselves in His story.

© RRT – soli deo gloria

*Click here for “5 Ways to Retell a Bible Story With Kids”. (Source: Faith Alive Christian Resources)