Monday, April 1, 2013

A Story Precedes The Truth

I just watched this year's academy award wining movie, "Lincoln" by Steven Spielberg.  In short, I can't wait to watch it again.  I have always been a Presidential history buff, but this movie captures Lincoln in a way that I have never witnessed before in writing.  Daniel Day Lewis (who should have gotten the award for Best Actor of the Century on this one) depicts the real humanity, humility and raw grit of Lincoln.  One of the things that I had forgotten about Lincoln was his story telling ability.  Lincoln just loved "spinning a yarn" about anything and everything.  But there was always  point to Lincoln's stories.  In one scene, which the movie depicts so well, Stanton, the Secretary of War is having an emotional meltdown about an attack that the South are waging against the North.  At this choice moment, Lincoln proceeds to tell a story about a portrait of George Washington hanging in a privy.  At first the story seems to have no purpose, but by the end, it is clear that Lincoln is telling it at that important moment in order to calm the nerves of the White House staff, and to refocus their minds. The story, in other words played an important role in the emotional health of the moment.

The Story Precedes the Truth

Many people have asked why I tell corny jokes in my sermons on Sunday.  The reasons are the same as the ones I saw depicted in the movie Lincoln.  A joke, about 3/4 of the way through the sermon changes the mindset and the mental focus of a congregation.  "Wait a minute," I can hear people saying in their minds, "we were in a serious moment, and now we are in a light hearted moment."  Jokes use a different part of the brain than serious thought.  And the truth is, that serious thought is always easier when it is done in a place of relaxation and ease.  Remember, it was Pythagoras who came up with an answer to algebra and geometry, not while sitting at his desk and thinking, but while lying in a bath and relaxing.  I have always found that it's in a place of relaxation that people can take in the deepest truths.

The Story Precedes the Truth

Jesus knew the art of story telling.  The Jewish culture is very much a story telling culture.  When people in ancient Israel weren't talking about Bible stories, they were recounting fictional stories of the creation of the beginning of the earth - Rahab the Leviathan battling Yahweh was one of their favorites.  In addition to Jewish culture being a story telling culture, the rabbinical tradition of the first century was a story telling profession.  Parables were the best way of conveying deep truths about life.  Jesus told hundreds of parables in his ministry.  Some of the parables were his own, some were long used stories retold and refashioned by Jesus.  But in all the cases of these stories, they have the same effect as the stories Lincoln told, they relaxed the audience, congregation, and gathering of people enough so that they were able to hear the deeper truths Jesus was trying to convey.

"There once was a father and two sons, one a prodigal and the other a Daddy's boy..." - leads to the truth of grace and love in the face of recklessness and sin.

"There once were two builders..." - leads to the truth of building a life on a firm foundation

"There once were two sons who went out to work in the fields.  One said he wouldn't work, but decided later to work.  The other said he would work very hard, but then didn't do a thing..." - leads to the truth of being honest in what you say you are going to do.

I have often thought of the art of story-telling (and joke telling) in the context of public speaking as the image of a bouncing ball on a table.  Let's say that the end goal is to have the ball rest on the table.  You  drop the ball above the table and watch it bounce.  Each bounce is closer to the table, as the ball comes to a rest.  Again, the goal is to have the ball be at rest on the table.  But you can't just drop a ball and expect it to stick to the table.  It must bounce, higher, less-high, middle, lower, lower and then rest.  A good story in our lives has the effect of the ball bouncing off the table.  Away, away away, closer, closer, stop.

The Story Precedes the Truth

After having written this blogpost, I realize that this is the most obvious of points to make about the parables and story telling in general.  But what I have recently discovered is the power of a story to take our minds out of the place of focus and attention of serious area of thought, into a place of imagination and lightness and truth.

All For Now,

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