[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”250″ identifier=”0802874576″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/513hGqFg0hL.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”162″]The Stories that Bind Us
An excerpt from
New Vision for an Old Story:
Why the Bible Might Not Be the Book You Think It Is
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2018.
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In all of life, stories are how we form, maintain, and define relationships. When we tell someone about our day, we don’t just recite a list of events. We use the day’s details as building blocks for a story about what our day was like and how we felt about it. That, in turn, gives us a bridge to nurture a relationship with someone else as we tell it and to find meaning for ourselves in what we do. Which is not to say that my Facebook post about last Thursday at work is going to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Sometimes it’s a dull story; often it’s a simple story; sometimes it’s the same story day after day after day, and a loved one’s hearing aid is discreetly switched to “off.” But it’s a story nonetheless, and it matters because, in the process of telling it, I’m inviting you into my life while trying to figure out my own small place and purpose in the world.
Stories not only help us communicate; they shape us. The formative power of stories explains why parents are usually very particular about which stories their children hear, read, and watch. As their impressions of life are first being formed, we want our children to share our worldview and to relate to others in the way we think is best, and we use stories to do it—stories that might be fictional but that we find to be “true” in deeper ways. We look for stories that are true to our values and that reinforce behaviors that we believe lead to success—however we might define that term.
When I was a child, my parents read me Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf to be sure I understood that peace was better than fighting; and they read me Winnie the Pooh to teach me the joy of simple things, the importance of a good friend, and patience with the foibles of others. My father read me fantasy stories to be sure I knew that the world was a place of wonder and that what I saw with the naked eye might not be all there was to see. My parents took me to church so that I could hear the faith stories they valued and be introduced to the God they knew and loved. I went to school and heard the stories of our nation and learned what it meant to be an American. I learned what it meant to be from my particular school and from “Poor little Rhode Island, the smallest of the fifty states.” Through books and television, through songs and news, through classrooms, church, and family tales told around the dining room table, I heard the stories that defined my relationship to myself, my family, my world, and my God. Which was exactly why those stories were told. That is what stories do.
As I grew and ventured out into the world, I learned that not every story was meant to be told everywhere. There were secret stories and dangerous stories and stories that you didn’t tell unless you absolutely had to and maybe not even then. Not every story and therefore not every relationship was “safe.” I learned the boundaries of my relationships through the responses I received to my stories and the effect that the stories of others had on me.
I also began to realize that there were other stories that belonged to other families, races, religions, and nations. To the extent that I could harmonize those stories with mine, my relationships and worldviews expanded. If I couldn’t connect the dots, those stories, and therefore the people who shared them, were to me like some foreign land—to be engaged with curiosity or caution, maybe a bit of both, or maybe not at all. Stories don’t just give you information or spin a tale. Stories weave a context of meaning that creates, defines, and nurtures relationships and all of our social bonds. Once those bonds are set, stories that give a different context of meaning can be difficult even to comprehend, let alone accept.
Some people object to teaching children Bible stories for that very reason—because they see the Bible as teaching a very narrow and exclusive view of the world that will make their kids lean toward bigotry and away from science. Others insist on teaching the Bible to make sure the laws and values found in the Bible are rock-solid as early in a child’s life as possible. The debate plays out in school boards and educational circles from coast to coast. But underneath those arguments is the same basic misperception. Both fail to see the Bible itself as essentially story—to understand that the Bible doesn’t just contain stories, it is story.
Human relationships at every level are forged by story, and the central invitation of the Bible is to discover a new frame for relationships with God, ourselves, and each other. Further, the God of both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures is described in personal, relational terms. The most natural way in the world for that God to shape and guide our relationships is through the oldest relationship-builder we know: stories. Viewing the Bible as story is totally consistent with the nature of the God who gave it to us.
Excerpted from New Vision for an Old Story: Why the Bible Might Not be the Book You Think It Is by Anne Robertson ©2018 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) Reprinted by permission of the publisher, all rights reserved.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
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