Normally, when I have a chance to speak I like to be very measured with my words.
For example, I know that if I have 30 minutes to speak on a Sunday morning that is about 2600 words. So, normally on a Tuesday morning reflection at the Chapel here at MIT, I would plan to write 800-1000 words. Choosing those words to both carefully convey an idea, to inspire, but also to provide verbal cues to ongoing conversations.
Today, however, my notes are scribbles. I have chosen to write only a few verbal clues as reminders of ideas, because our topic for the semester is, “In my family we…” and in my family…we tell stories.
Stories are better told than parsed.
About 10 years ago, with a video camera in hand and my children at the table we wrote down a series of questions and let my grandparents tell the stories. My kids were especially interested in how my Grandfather used to come to my Grandmother’s house when she was a teenager. He would always come to play cards with my Grandmother’s parents, but looking back my Grandfather would say that was just an excuse to see Theta Bell, my Grandmother.
My kids were also interested in what their Great-Grandparents watched on television, what it was like to purchase their first television and when and how Theta Bell and Harley first kissed.
But, one story my Grandfather saved for last.
“Timmy (my Grandfather was one of three people who call me Timmy). I want to tell you a story, and I want you to record it and play at my funeral.”
“Now, I’ve never told this story to no one.”
My Grandfather proceeded to tell of a prank that my Uncle, my Father and some of their buddies played on my Grandfather.
Harley raised chickens and used to sell them locally. And he proceeded to tell how he found out about the prank, and pranked them instead. And he finished telling the story with great laughter, and said, “And to this day, they don’t know I did that!”
We ended my Grandfather’s funeral with this video, and we all laughed with him.
We are people whose lives are shaped by and give shape to stories around us.
When my wife was pregnant with our second child, we did not know the gender of the before the birth…so we came prepared with a boys name and a girls name.
Our second turned out to be a girl that we named Amolee.
Amolee was named after my wife’s Grandmother, Amolee. Not only did we like the name, it was a way to honor my wife’s memory of her grandmother who passed away when she was a little girl.
Some months later, my wife’s Aunt sent us a beautiful letter about our kids that included a story that we cherish about naming our daughter Amolee.
Jeannie, my wife’s aunt, said in her letter that she only remembered seeing her Mother cry twice in her life. Once was when Jeannie’s dad passed away, the second was on a day after Stephanie had been to the house.
Stephanie would frequently come to the house and play on the floor with at her Grandmother Amolee’s house. At this point Amolee was also ill and not able to play with her on the floor, but would sit in the rocking chair and watch as Stephanie played. After one visit she began to cry, as Jeannie would tell the story.
“What is wrong, Mom?”
“I love when Stephanie comes to play, but I am afraid that she will not remember me.”
And then Jeannie wrote in her letter to us, “Guess what Mom, Stephanie is all grown up now with a daughter of her own, and guess what she named her? Amolee. She did remember.”
Stories shape our identity.
Jesus used stories as his predominant way of conveying understanding about God’s world, God’s way of seeing things.
One of my favorite is from Mark 3 and goes like this…
“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
The choices we make give shape to the story we are telling. We can be shaped by other stories that are being given to us everyday, or we can choose to shape the story around us.
The Kingdom of God is best captured in stories; even the story of Jesus himself is a story of death and resurrection of need and hope.
In my family, we tell stories…
Sojourn College Ministries