The Power of a Good Story

I love a good read/watch/listen… a story told in a compelling fashion. That’s one of the reasons why I love films. I love twists and turns, sudden jolts of laughter, sudden bolts out of the blue. An ending that subverts everything that has gone before. I recently saw a movie called Us about a family who are forced to do battle with themselves, that has a storming twist of an ending, one that makes you reflect on everything else in the story. I love stories for the way they help us make sense of life, the way they can inspire us to keep going and not give up. A few days ago I read of the true story of Hannah Brencher, who has founded a global network of letter writing. Her mother hand wrote letters to her to encourage her when she was younger, and this has inspired her to inspire others to use hand written letters to help those who are struggling. You can see her 5-minute Ted talk about this here:

YouTube video

Her story has inspired me to create small cards of encouragement to pass on to others when I go out and about speaking. One story inspires another. (Last year I was inspired in a similar way by the story of the Mayor of Bogota who changed his city for the better back in 2001.)

I also love the stories of Jesus, we call them his parables. Jesus used gripping yarns to offer us an alternate lifestyle, a counter-cultural way of living so we might whisper, mutter, smile or shout of God with our outlook on life. His stories were loaded with humour and twists and turns. He had his audience in the palm of his hand as he told them, they would never forget these shocking tales, and would go on to pass them down to us. I wonder whether we underestimate the power of a good story, swapping it sometimes for an earnest sermon. Stories give us room to manoeuvre, to debate, to question, to be honest, to wonder and wrestle. There’s no doubt that when Jesus told his stories the intention was to create conversation and relationship. Stories are dangerous of course, they may lead us to change in radical ways, they can be misunderstood, they may be misquoted and misused. But Jesus took that chance. Time and again. He hadn’t come to control others with a harsh mandate, he was inviting us into a new world, a new way of being, and his colourful stories offer us interactive pictures of that. A helpless widow who unexpectedly triumphs over a powerful, corrupt judge. Two bad sons, one of them limping home knowing he needs help, the other fuming in the dangerous place of thinking he’s all right thanks. A king throwing a party and filling his palace with all those who cannot dress, smell or sound right. Layered tales rich with meaning, wonder and the invitation to wrestle. Time and again Jesus brought his stories to the people, many of these tales drawing on life, culture and history, and he asked the folks what they thought, what they made of them. Not looking for the right answer, but for a growing relationship with him. I guess he does the same today.

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