Our canvas (church small-group) has picked up a discipline that it practiced for a while before I joined… telling stories. The past few weeks we have devoted our group time to letting new(er) members of the community (including myself) share their stories. Each time we gathered we shared a meal and then circled all 18 of us around in the living room to hear someone share their life’s story for an hour. followed by some questions, of course. Although already a tight community, this practice seems to have brought us closer.
Although tellings stories have probably been part of every culture, we seem to be going through a shift from propositional statements to stories being the bearer of truth. “Where are you from? What do you do? Where’d you go to school? Where do you live?” These questions can only give a glimpse at a person’s true self, and can often be deceiving. But to sit down and ask someone to tell you their story means so much more. It’s authentic, real, intimate. It tells of a journey and shows a life trajectory. It captures shaping moments and the greatest trials. It’s not only who someone is but who someone has been. It’s the difference between examining a bowl and watching it be made from clay and glaze. The process of forming ourselves matters. It makes us who we are. And in telling our stories, the full picture comes into view. Listeners can place themselves in the story of the other. They can understand where they fit in their lives.
Telling our story in community somehow breaks down barriers between people. It fosters honesty. It plants friendships. And most importantly, it weaves the individual’s story into the story of the greater community. So now, when I am in community with you, and you have told your story, your story becomes part of my greater story. They begin to weave together into some greater tale.
And hopefully, the end goal is to weave the communal story, with all the individual’s stories, together with the greater story of what God has done, is doing, and is going to do. Our communal stories join the over-arching story of the Bible and become part of something even bigger.
“Just as scientific theories are partially judged by the fruitfulness of the activities they generate, so narratives can and should be judged by the richness of the moral character and activity they generate.” – Stanley Hauerwas