The Story of God
The Power of Story
If you have ever read, listened to, or watched a brilliant story, then you know that narrative has a way of affecting us to our core. Think of a story that grabbed hold of your mind and your heart so tightly that you were never the same again. And when we experience a story like this, we want to share our experience with others. We tell and retell the story, and if we are with someone who also knows the story, we love to dialogue and discuss the deeper meanings hidden in the narrative, pointing out its specific impact on our lives.
My Dad, Clark Sr., is a big-time storyteller. Armed with an endless supply, he lives for fresh ears to hear his latest tale. Most (if not all) of Clark’s stories are about hunting. Stories about chasing bulls deep in the wilderness of Eastern Oregon (that’s male elk, for non-hunters). Stories of strangers who have helped him find an animal or get out of a bind. Hilarious moments of falls and mishaps. Sad moments of loss and challenge.
What all these stories have in common is that I have heard them dozens, if not hundreds, of times. That may sound like a slight to my Dad, but I assure you it is not. The older I get, the more I appreciate my Dad’s repetition. Maybe it’s because I am a Dad now; my son Keane increasingly experiences me as long-winded and redundant. But I have also come to learn that narrative repetition is one of the most effective learning tools we have as humans.
The Power of Repetition
This idea is as old as Plato and Aristotle, Sabbath and the Passover meal. It’s as old as my Dad, who has always used his stories as a way to teach. His stories taught me how to mow the lawn the correct way. They helped me problem-solve when fixing broken things in my home. They taught me to value my work, even really small tasks that no one will ever see. I look forward to passing on many of these same stories to my own kids.
Jesus was Himself a storyteller. We see Him use parables as a primary teaching tool, in keeping with rabbinic tradition. His disciples paid close attention, too, so that oral tradition became a critical resource for writing down the gospels a few decades later. They would have sat with Jesus, walked with Jesus, and listened to Him tell the same stories over and over and over again. Each detail being illuminated in some slightly different way every time they heard it.
Why are we so easily bored when hearing the same story twice? I almost never choose to watch a movie again. And I’m worse with repetition in faith! I roll my eyes and think “I have heard this one before! I already know this!” First, I give my memory far too much credit. And, second, I forget that each time I hear or watch a story, I am a fresh audience member because I am changing all the time. Is it possible that redundancy over time is the very thing required to give a story maximum impact in my life? Maybe my dad is on to something in his regular tellings of elk stories. Maybe there is still something there for me to learn and apply to my experience of God’s story.
The Story of God on Repeat
Every January, Citizens Church gathers together as an entire community to sit and listen to God’s story from beginning to end. It is a discipline of practiced redundancy. We do it in faith. We do it with a humility that assumes there is an endless amount of value to be extracted from this story; I could hear it every year for the rest of my life and never come away empty.
We listen to the story together, and then ask questions along the way which calls us to interact with its content. We have a few guidelines for our time in the story. First, we aren’t allowed to jump ahead in discussion and reference information that hasn’t been shared yet in this year’s reading. We do this to help ourselves feel and experience the normal tension of an unfolding plot line. We also do this in order to remain hospitable to those who are hearing the story for the first time. No spoilers allowed!
Our second rule is that no question or thought is off-limits. Some people in the room believe that the biblical story is the true story of the whole world; others believe it’s not true, or not entirely true. We want to make space for people to interact and engage honestly with what they are hearing. Do you like the characters? Do you agree with their actions (including God)? What would you do if you were in their shoes?
If you are not a believer in Jesus, would you come hear the story? If you are a believer in Jesus, when is the last time you heard the story and shared it with others? You are always welcome to join us! In the first five weeks of the year, every year, for as long as Jesus allows us, we will tell and retell the story to whoever will listen.
And if you can’t make it but are interested in our five-week curriculum, download it here.
*The Story of God is a derivative of The Story of God © Copyright 2003-2006 Michael Novelli & Caesar Kalinowski, all rights reserved. This derivative was created and distributed with permission. You are free to use, remix, and build upon this work non-commercially if you attribute Soma Communities. For details, see creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/. We also benefitted from additions made by Chris Gonzalez of Missio Dei in Tempe, Arizona.