Telling Stories

“I hate reading.” That’s what I hear from my English students on a regular basis. The older the literature, the louder the complaints. The more Shakespeare, the more tears. And if my students were to read this blog entry, they would chastise me for my obscene sentence fragments and loudly protest my ability to put my own instruction into action. Hypocrite.
I can’t be too critical of my students, however, because their gripes and complaints are no different than my own when I was in high school. I didn’t hate reading per se, but I found no value in such works as Catcher in the Rye or The Scarlet Letter. I thought Holden Caulfield was a jerk and just needed to have the living snot beat out of him. (He is a jerk, but he needs the grace and restoration of a loving God more than anything else). I thought Hester Prynne was trashy and deserved her punishment. (Trashy was a bit extreme, but I failed to hate Dimmesdale and his spinelessness, and I had absolutely no sympathy for Chillingworth in all his misery.)
I am not lost on the irony that I now teach these works to disgruntled teens. I have a completely different view on the so-called classics, and not because I’m a teacher. My opinion has changed regarding these stories and these characters because I have much more life experience that I bring to the table when interacting with a novel. They say that reading literature helps provide us with life experience. They also say that we can better understand/interpret literature if we have a greater accumulation of life experience. Hey, Chicken, meet Egg. Feel free to argue over who came first.In the fray of complaining, I think we lose sight of mankind’s innate need to tell stories. We’ve been telling stories for thousands of years to entertain, educate, inform, etc. Culturally, we seem to enjoy watching stories more than reading them, but the number of movies being made from books tells me that written stories still matter.

Why is it that stories are so important to us?

For starters, because God is a storyteller. When Job finally gives in to peer pressure and complains to God about all of his suffering, God shows up and tells Job the story of the universe. Joseph learns his own life story from God through dreams. When Moses talks to God via the burning bush, God tells the story of rescue and redemption. Granted, the event had yet to take place, but a story is still a story. Jesus frequently told stories, or parables, to help communicate his point. I love the fact that the disciples were often confused by Jesus’ parables and needed him to explain his purposes. Whether it’s prophetic, historical, scientific, or symbolic, we see example after example of God telling stories. In creative writing classes, professors and writers teach that the best stories include characters who have motivations/desires, they make choices to get what they want, they’re provided an opportunity to change, and then have to deal with the consequences or fallout. Starting with Adam and Eve, the Bible tells story after story following this pattern of motivation-choice-change. The apostle Paul even writes that God is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God is writing our story, and in writing our story he is revealing his own story of grace and redemption.

Genesis also tells us that we are made in God’s image. So if God is a storyteller, we are created to be storytellers. I had a guy once tell me that I was a sinner because I read fiction. Fiction stories, he claimed, were synonymous with lies because they were fabricated and made up. I asked him how he felt about Jesus making up stories to prove a point. He claimed that Jesus had the God-given right to do what he wanted and we weren’t holy enough to do it on our own. I thought about asking him if he drank special kool-aid but I refrained. That guy’s stance can’t be further from the Biblical command to live like Jesus.

This idea of God being a storyteller strikes me as I reflect on my own view of literature over the course of my life. My attitude towards literature was very much like my attitude towards people. My heart was hard and sympathetic. I had sharp edges and, unbeknownst to me at the time, I cut a lot of people. God’s story for me was one of grace and redemption, though, and I have had an opportunity to reconcile with almost everyone that I had burned my bridge with in high school.

I don’t hate classic literature anymore. I’d like to think I don’t have quite as much disdain for people either. Looking back, I can see God’s handiwork designing my faith and my life.

What does your story look like? If you’ve placed Jesus at the center of your life, have you seen your motivations change over time? Have you seen your story begin to unfold? The answers to these questions could be thought provoking and challenging. But then again, isn’t that what a good story should accomplish?


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