Thursday, January 28

On the Telling of Stories

"One of the less obvious powers of storytelling - not the storytelling to prove a point or a moral lesson - but the story that truly engages the mind and heart - is that it keeps the capacity for envisioning possibilities alive. We have to keep communicating with open heart and pauses; seeing from different perspectives. We need to give up on using our own opinions as truth. Othewise fear overwhelms and suddenly business seems the only solution. That is what happened in Germany and is becoming normal in the US and around the world. We need to eat but we need to remember how to cook, where the food comes from, how roots need water and how to share whatever we have." (cLSimms2016)

On my first outing as a student in the Storytelling program at ETSU, I told one of my favorite stories: The Gunniwolf. It's sort of like Little Red Riding Hood except there is music in the story and no one actually gets eaten, which is all the better to tell to preschoolers, my dears. I was accompanied by my eternal partner in crime, Matt, and my professor, Dr. Sobol. Afterward, we ate at a Golden Corral, which has no bearing on this story at all, but is kind of funny in light of my sister's starring role in one of their commercials several years later.
I digress.
Anyway, at the end of the story, the little girl has learned the secret of getting around the Gunniwolf and is safe in her own home and somehow, as a novice, I'd forgotten that I needed to know what I wanted to say to end the story, so I did something that came naturally. I moralized the poor thing. 

"And the little girl never went out into the woods without her mama again."

Even now, many years later, I cringe. 
This is a beautiful story about a little girl learning that danger and threat can be overcome without resorting to violence, but by her wits and keeping calm in the face of danger, but I turned it into a story about an errant child who learned her lesson and didn't become anything more than an errant child who got lucky. Heed her example, Children!!

Dr. Sobol was kind enough to point out that I had done this, because it's likely I wouldn't have realized it, maybe ever. I grew up learning all the stories in the Bible and the end of them always had some moralizing lesson that we were given. I'm not sure anyone ever thought about it, much the way I did not think about it. It was just a neat, tidy way to wrap up the story.

Some part of us craves the easily understood and formulaic ending that comes with moralizing a story. Some Bible stories are hard to know what to do with at all if we can't find some overarching moral to them. What do we do with the death of David and Bathsheba's child (and that is why we do not sin!)?  What do we do with the rape of Tamar (and that is why father's should be more involved in their children's upbringing!)? What do we do with the death of Judas (and that is why betrayal/love of money is wrong!)

I'm just not sure that we have to do anything with these stories. I realize that I've completely destroyed your bible school curriculum, but I don't apologize.

How is the mind and the heart engaged when we talk about the death of Bathsheba's child with David?  I personally feel an overwhelming sense of compassion for both of them. I can't imagine a worse thing than losing a child. Moralizing this story is unkind and dismissive of their grief. It dismisses the questions that we all ask when someone innocent dies even though we pray fervently for their healing. Where is God when the young suffer? Is God listening when I pray for their healing? Is there any point to prayer? 

How are the heart and mind engaged when we talk about the rape of Tamar? Did this girl deserve to be assaulted? Should she not have been alone with her brother? Should she not have been taking care of him, so intimately, when he was sick? How can her life be over because of the terrible actions of 

How are the heart and mind engaged when we talk about Judas' fate? Even now, is it our job to hold this man up as an evil figure? Was his despair inevitable and deserved?

But, as I said, there is no neat and tidy way to wrap these questions up. Moralizing these stories is unkind and dismissive of their grief. It dismisses the questions that we all ask when someone innocent dies even though we pray fervently for their healing, or when senseless violence happens to someone who was trying to do good, or when someone realizes how lost they are and can't see a way out of it.

It is far more difficult to practice compassion and mercy or to become empathetic than it is to point out all the ways in which someone has done wrong and brought bad things on themselves and others. When we moralize we are essentially looking for ways to make a checklist that justifies us.

Instead, we must begin to look for the root of the root and the bud of the bud, which is the love of God. God looked down on David and loved him, even though he did not grant him the life of his child, God looked down on Tamar and on Amnon and loved them, and he looked at Judas and loved him, as well.

Asking why is part of maturing. Observing what was learned and celebrating the good we find in any situation is worthwhile. Sometimes a story is about knowing and understanding and bearing witness, and we cannot forget that.  

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