I love stories. I love telling my own stories. I love reading stories, my bedside table is covered with books. I love hearing my friends' stories. I love reading stories on blogs or watching a story in a movie theater.
I learn so much more from a story than I do from a lecture. I read somewhere that this is true for our kids too. They will remember so much more if we tell them our own stories as examples instead of lecturing them on how to live. When I taught history, my students often remembered the stories even when they could not remember the exact name, places, or dates of the events described.
Stories resonate with me. They let me consider new ideas at enough distance for me to feel safe to explore without being judged. They let me tell the truth about my experience without having to place blame or explain why I have made the choices I have.
Jesus loved stories. When you read the red lettered words in the Bible, the words Jesus spoke, more often than not you are reading a story he told to the crowds gathered around him. There are few sermons in Jesus' teachings, only one that I can recall without looking - the Sermon on the Mount. But the stories he tells, there are too many - the good Samaritan, the Prodigal son, the rich young man, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the Vineyard workers, and on and on. And these are just the stories Jesus himself tells but then there are the stories of what Jesus did. The healings, the miracles, the feeding of thousands, the travels, the rocked boats. The gospels are full of stories.
I have learned so much about what God wants for my life from these stories, so much about who God is and how much He loves me.
And I am sure the crowds listening were touched by the stories Jesus told. His stories were not always easy, some were quiet pointed. But here's the thing about Jesus' story telling. He never made the listeners the characters. He never labeled them as the rich man, the lost sheep, the passerby who left the robbed man behind. He didn't need to accuse, to label. The stories spoke for themselves. Humanity has not changed that much over the centuries since. The listeners then and the readers of these stories now can see themselves in those characters.
Sometimes I am the prodigal, sometimes the elder brother. Sometimes I am the Samaritan but more often I am the one pretending I don't see the person in need on my path.
Stories are powerful. They evoke emotion. They speak truth.
Lately though, I have noticed stories being used to lecture. Speakers using their personal experience to tell the listener how to live. Writers putting down words in a story format that barely hides the prescription they want the reader to find.
I love stories. I will continue to write my stories.
But I don't want to weaponize story telling.
Jesus could have easily used the people in the crowd for his characters but he choose not to. He told stories and the crowds discovered their own place in them. Lives were changed without him ever demanding that the crowd become a part of his story.