When I think about the title of my blog series, “Telling Our Story in the 21st Century”, I have a pretty broad image of what the word ‘Story’ could mean. It’s an intangible notion that, to me, cannot be defined definitively in one sitting. Today I just want to focus on one aspect.
‘Story’ is not just a fabricated piece of fiction, a fable, or fairy tale. It is not just a narrative invented to teach or entertain, although surely all those are stories. When I think ‘Story’, I think mostly of reality, literal or figurative, seeking to be shared… experiences to be conveyed.
Story-telling is the art of delivering a description of a lived reality in such a way as to elicit an emotional connection with the audience, and a deeper understanding. This Story could be delivered in words, graphics, video, motion/dance, or any other way the attends to the listener both cognitively and at the feeling level. Therefore, storytelling is presenting what happened in the past, yes. But it is also, at its best, the sharing of something to be lived into. It could be an idea, a culture, a world view, an experience, a prescriptive way of living, or an admonition to avoid a dangerous way of living.
Jesus told stories. They were short, easy to remember, and could elicit from the hearer an immediate understanding of Jesus’ point. They weren’t necessarily describing actual occurrences, but often painted stories that could be lived into. The Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time offers some of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of heaven, for example,
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.
Summertime is a break from school. A downtime for school children to play hard and focus on things other than formal lessons. And, as I remember parenting with my wife back in the day, I don’t remember ever having to discern whether or not to enroll our kids back into their Catholic schools. It was a no-brainer. We have found our pearl of great price, and the Story of that pearl was rich with how the teachers loved our kids, and how that story was something students at Sts. Peter, Paul and Michael (now All Saints Academy), and then Cathedral High School, would be called to live into.
Are the Stories of our Catholic schools still getting out? I found one such a pearl through the Storytelling of Saint Andrew’s in Elk River. The faculty put together a wonderful video, not bragging about how wonderful they are, but simply sharing who their community is.
We never have to wonder
Who we really are
We are children of our Father
Who loves us all.
-from Monica Scott’s Children of God
In the video I see kids who are telling their Story by claiming their birthright through song. I see adults who are joining them. I see kids, individually or with siblings caring enough about their community to come together virtually from their digital diaspora rather than face to face. I see teachers who are invested enough in their community to spend hours upon hours crafting their story with free software, showing their desire to be good stewards.
During this pandemic, with all of its challenges economically and logistically, would I decide to ‘sell all I have’ to buy another year there for my children? You bet. Why? The story they tell convinces me that we have a great pearl here. It is a captivating story. And it is a story I would want my children to live into.
We are children of God
Sent from above
We can be the light
We will show the world His love
We are children of God
When they are adults, I want them to have that Story in their very core.
As David Walsh, Ph.D. said, “Whoever tells the stories defines the culture”. I am seeing more and more schools and parishes telling their stories. I am watching with great anticipation how we are learning more creative ways, because of the challenges of our pandemic and the problems posed by our society, to not only tell our story for others to hear, but to tell our stories in ways that calls us all to live into them.