“It’s dark, it’s cold, my skin is wet from walking through dense fog, and I want to know the way home. Keeping my hands in my pockets, I shiver and shuffle around in my coat and draw it closer. I’m lost, in a place I don’t know very well. I don’t recognise anything. Signposts tell me the way to streets and landmarks I’ve not been to. I walk past the odd person I don’t recognise – well, why would I? I know that home is nearby, somewhere, and yet, without a clue as to where I am, I could be out here all night…”
A story? A metaphor? A parable? Is it real? Is it trying to tell me something? What is it?
I love the medium, the magic and the mystery of storytelling. It’s an art that we’ve lost in modern times.
I discovered it at Lee Abbey Summer Camp in Devon when I met a man called Simon – a really fun and interesting man who was a storyteller in his spare time. He taught us some of the tricks of the trade in a short workshop and I was hooked. He could communicate ideas, facts, morals, history, dreams and sometimes just stories, in such a captivating way. It was amazing.
I like storytelling as a means of communicating and I think that we should do it more. Jesus told lots of stories to communicate important things to people in memorable ways. Many will know the story of the Good Samaritan, and maybe the Prodigal Son.
Yes, storytelling is a very good thing. So why then do I find it so overused?
In church services people pepper their talks, sermons or messages with little anecdotes to draw you in or make the points more practical. Yet I find this dilutes a talk rather than enhancing it.
In modern non-fiction books (and especially in books that fall into the “Christian Living” category) I find myself wallowing in stories and struggling to get to what’s actually being said.
I’m currently trying to work out my love-hate relationship with storytelling.
I THINK that what I see in talks and books are short anecdotes – not proper storytelling as such. And these are useful. But I think we need to be careful how, and how much, we use them, otherwise our message gets diluted, or our audience drifts off at the thought of another of so-and-so’s tiresome tales.
What I saw Simon doing at Lee Abbey was REAL storytelling. He didn’t need to add to it, or explain it. The story itself – and the way he told it – was enough. Sometimes he left you with questions, but that was OK; sometimes that WAS the point!
Rob Bell of the Mars Hill Church in the US does a good mixture of both in his “Nooma” videos. He tells a story. One story. That’s his parable, that’s his hook to get you in and to give you something to remember. But then he develops that story into a message. And it works. We saw one of these videos on Sunday night. I’d seen it before a few months ago and it was very familiar. I can tell you all about Rob walking along the beach telling the story, his little boy wanting the thing on a strap that will hit him in the face and screaming “I WAAAAANT one” and “I NEEEED it” when daddy knows better. And not just because I wrote about it in my “Sunday evening brain dump”.
I’m fed up with the books I’m reading full of anecdotes, and I don’t connect with preaching that mixes up powerful truth and personal tales; they make me feel like a guy who’s lost in the fog who wishes he could find what he’s really looking for. A story should get to the heart of the matter, it should be told passionately, and it should teach a simple truth.
Yes, I’m not really sure what to make of storytelling. I’ll keep trying to work out what I make of it. I’m sure there’s no perfect formula but I just think it’s a means of communication that we could use better. I’ll keep struggling with my books – there are good, real-life illustrations in there that make a point real. I’ll keep listening to my preachers and teachers because, after all, they’re far wiser and more knowledgeable than I about most things.
And hopefully the signposts and the people I come across will help me find my home.