Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Power in the Story

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…
Bob Robling came up to me at our class reunion with his usual bright and handsome smile. He is one of those classmates who does not fear reunions because he’s just as good-looking and just as wavy-haired as in high school, only a little more mature.
“Do you remember that summer after high school when you and I and Dave Lamb and Don Taylor went around each Sunday to different churches and we sang as a quartet and you preached?” he asked. I assured him I did, remembering mostly the regularity with which I let the bass part slip over under Bob’s lead tenor, so that it sounded like an adolescent frog was singing melody.
“I’ve always said,” he beamed, “that the best preacher I ever heard was an eighteen-year old kid.”
This tells us two things: One is that Bob hasn’t been to church much in the last fifty years. [1] The second is that there is power, and even sanity, in narrative.
I didn’t know how to preach back then, so I told stories. People respond to stories. Biblical stories. Personal stories. Historical stories. Passed-around stories. [2] We respond to stories because we don’t live in theories or propositions or theologies or mental constructs. We live in story.
In his book, THE 7 SINS OF MEMORY: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, Daniel L. Schacter, the Chair of Harvard’s Dept. of Psychology, talks in Chpt. 7 of the problem of persistence in memory, bad memories that depress us because they won’t leave. Research indicates that the problem is “rumination,” which is generalized memory, rather than narrative memory. When people can tell about past experiences in story form rather than simply ruminating on them, stirring around in them, as in the generalizations like “I felt really bad and unhappy,” or “Crappy things always happen to me,” the power of the memory to depress lifts. [3] You get power to heal your own life when you can tell your story.
The same is true with illness. When I got cancer, I read that people who went to a support group had a 50% better chance of getting well. I also read that those who kept a journal of their experiences and feelings had a 50% better chance of getting well. I’m no dummy; that’s 100%! I started going to support group, where we told our stories to one another, and keeping a journal. [4]
The “sins” of memory are transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. All of them are of special concern to old people. Ironically, the one that is most debilitating, persistence, is the one about which we can do the most. Just tell the story.
I never did learn to preach. I just kept telling stories. The best preachers I’ve ever heard are those who told stories with their lives. Bob has done that as a teacher, a singer, a son, a husband, a father, a friend. He has been told he has only four to six weeks to live. With typical grace, he said, “I’ve had a great life. I have no complaints.” That’s a story worth repeating.
1] I said this at our reunion dinner, and Bob protested after that he’s been to church a lot in the last 50 years, but I still think it’s a good line.
2] A layperson asked another what preachers do at conferences. “They trade stories,” he was told. “I think ours gets cheated,” he replied.
3] This is a very brief summary. You can read it for yourself starting on page 170.
4] The journal became NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them. [AndrewsMcMeel. There are also audio, Czech, and Japanese versions.]
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!
You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin, or make it into a movie or TV series.
{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at}

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