Saturday, March 19, 2011

Stories and Christians

This last week two profoundly successful authors visited Baylor and I was privileged enough to get to hear them speak.

On Tuesday night, Donald Miller and Anne Lamott spoke at Baylor amidst much controversy, well at least Lamott stirred controversy due to her views on abortion and assisted suicide.  Fortunately for you and me, I will not be commenting at all on these controversies, many others have done so ad nauseum. 

What I would like to comment on is the concept of Christians and storytelling.  Both Donald Miller and Ann Lamott are wonderful Christian storytellers.  They know how to use story to proclaim the gospel.  Though one would be hard pressed to find the narrowly-defined evangelical gospel in their stories, their stories preach the gospel nonetheless.

After their lecture, there was a screening of select clips from the upcoming movie about Donald Miller's first book Blue Like Jazz.  The movie is not a "Christian" movie. The director, Steve Taylor, did not intend the movie to be a "Christian movie," though both he and Miller are Christians and are in some way trying to proclaim the gospel.  Yet, their motivating force is story.  Tell a good story, and the gospel will come through.

At the screening, there was time for questions one in particular struck me.  One student asked how to pursue storytelling as a Christian.  Miller's response, as best as I remember it was twofold. 1) start with story, study story, find out what makes some stories work and others not work.  Start with story.  2) tell the truth: not the truth as you think it should be, not as Christian orthodoxy says it should be, but just tell the truth, speak reality, tell things as they really are, or really would be or could be.

I think Christian storytellers often get things backwards.  They start with message, then formulate a story around that message.  What is the result? Bad stories.  Instead, start with story, and if you have a message in you, it will come through the story.

Interestingly, the next day I was reading a blog by Dr. Kirk, and he was also discussing the importance of story for Christians and the fact that sometimes we are so concerned with message that we forget it is about story.  Here is an excerpt, but you should go read the whole thing.

The way that Winter explains Christianity’s failure in the entertainment industry parallels what I would say is its failure, overall, to understand itself. We have too often forgotten that our faith is a story. It’s not a statement.
We think that to tell about Jesus we have to give an atonement theory. The early Christians thought that to tell about Jesus they had to narrate his death: in Gospels, in a meal, in a baptismal ritual.
As Winter suggested, we should be the greatest story tellers of all. But before that will be true of us, we have to really start believing that the story’s the thing.
 So, I ask, are we concerned with the story, and are we concerned to tell the truth?  Do we try to tell the story as it is, or do we try to make our stories line up with some preconceived notion of what "Christian" stories should look like, some orthodoxy to the stories we tell, an orthodoxy that rarely plays out in our real stories? 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your statement that Christian storytellers have to start with the story. This is what makes Donald Miller's work so appealing. He tells events in his life just as they happened and then through reflection on those events relates them to Christian ideals. His stories are examples of how God’s influence can truly be seen in the events of our lives. I really enjoyed reading Blue Like Jazz because of the way the story was told. I think Christian storytellers try to start with a message and adapt it to what "Christian" stories should look like. To tell their stories, I believe they should look for the way God works in the real events of our lives.