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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pastorgraphs: "Let's Talk Story"

E-Vangel Newsletter
June 15, 2014

Christ United Methodist Ministry Center

“Christ in the Heart of San Diego”
3295 Meade Avenue - San Diego, CA 92116 - (619) 284-9205
Pastorgraphs: "Let's Talk Story"
Friday was one of those days when two unrelated events converged to preach a sermon for me. It was a reminder of the power of story.
The day started early (3:00 AM Pacific) watching Jim Wallis of Sojourners on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, sharing how the power of stories transcends political and dogmatic lines. He believes the only way out of the gridlock in Washington is through stories that break the logjam of ideology and dogma that have polarized our country. I hope to meet him later this week at The Sojourners’ Summit at Georgetown University.

Jim tells his own story, sitting between two women at an immigration forum in Washington. One was a mother who had been separated from her 10-year-old daughter due to immigration policy. The other was a Congresswoman opposed to immigration reform. Jim introduced the two. The Congresswoman, also a mother of a 10-year-old daughter, listened to the other mother’s “story”, and was moved to embrace the other woman. Both wept in each other’s arms, as only mothers would understand. It is an example of how powerful stories are to cut across doctrine, dogma and even prejudice.   

The day climaxed in historic Royce Hall on the UCLA campus, celebrating the School of Theater, Film and Television graduation. Anita and I were there, filled with pride for Kimo Shearin (my brother-in-law), receiving his Master of Fine Arts (with honors). This after his 20 year career in the US Army as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, with two tours of  duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, followed by a final tour with The Old Guard at Arlington, guarding the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. (That’s an awesome story in itself!) You will understand if we popped a few buttons with pride for his accomplishments. And I hope you forgive me for name dropping that Jane Fonda, commencement speaker, and Darren Star (creator of Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, and Sex and The City, one of two alumnae of the year) reminded the room full of graduates of the potential power the stories they write, direct and produce over their promising careers will impact our world for better or worse.

The drive back home from Los Angeles to San Diego at rush hour on Friday afternoon was all we anticipated. (Ugh!) But Anita helped break it up by telling me that when she was growing up in Hawaii, there was a phrase the Hawaiians used (and still do): “Let’s Talk Story”. It goes far back in Hawaiian history to when they had no written language. The way they kept history and family traditions alive was by “talking story”, telling and retelling stories from one generation to another.

I can remember falling asleep in my Daddy’s bed as he, a master story teller, would tell us of his adventures growing up in the backwoods of Calhoun County MS in horse and buggy days. Daddy told us stories over and over again. We never tired of hearing them. In fact, we knew them so well, we reminded him if he left out one detail. But there was magic in hearing him tell them, envisioning in our mind’s eye what it must have been like to be there. That was before television. I have yet to experience the transcendent power of my Daddy’s stories, even in 3-D theaters.

Stories will always have power. The books of Genesis and Exodus are compilations of some of the greatest stories ever told. Hollywood is rediscovering the magic of such stories as Noah, Abraham, Joseph and Moses. For Christians, Jesus told “stories” (parables) to teach simple yet profound lessons that still have power today. 

You may have seen it on Facebook. Last week I watched as a little girl, perhaps no more than six, who stood before her church and told the story of Jonah with power, insight and animation. It was obvious she knew the story, and the story was alive in her. 

Why are stories important?

First, we remember stories. There were many commencement speeches this past week. I doubt many graduates will remember them, unless the speaker “talked story”. The UCLA graduates will never forget the stories Jane Fonda told, of how she decided to cast Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton in her movie, “9-5”, or how she sat in a room full of women office workers in Cleveland and asked them to share what they fantasized about doing to their (jerk, chauvinist) bosses. Dabney Coleman discovered some of those fantasies the hard way in the movie. They will remember Darren Star’s comment that he sat right where they are 31 years ago. Armed with his UCLA degree, Darren marched into nearby Hollywood and got a job….waiting tables! With no friends or connections in Hollywood, he got his foot in the door responding to a menial help wanted notice posted on a UCLA bulletin board (one with cork, not The students can relate to that story, and know before they earn Oscars or Emmys, there will be hard work and disappointments. It is when we tell relevant stories that the message not only gets through, but stays in our minds.

Second, stories come alive. Daddy’s stories made people whom we never met, long dead, come to life in our minds. This is the life-giving power of “talking story”. We cannot recite who begat whom, but we know who was in the lion’s den, who parted the Red Sea, and who ended up in the belly of a whale.

Third, stories teach a moral (and morals). It is no mistake Jesus used stories to teach. If he had simply said, “Be good”, that would have been soon forgotten. But using such phrases as “You are the salt of the earth”, “I am the door, the light, the way”, “Faith the size of a mustard seed”, and so on, he taught lessons that still resonate today. Sadly, most movies and TV shows today teach the wrong morals! 

Fourth, stories inspire, shape and mold us. As children, we hear stories of sports heroes, astronauts, and leaders who model for us the people we aspire to become. Often I hear successful people say they knew who they wanted to become at an early age. They believed they could, and did become the fulfillment of their own life story.

So, “Let’s talk story,” by sharing our own stories; listening, learning and entertaining each other. Their power may make for a better world. 

Devotedly yours, Bill Jenkins
From the Quote Garden:
“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”
~ Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

Photo: Upper left, Anita and Kimo Shearin. Upper right, Jane Fonda, commencement speaker. Lower left, Darren Star, alumnus of the year. Lower right, Kimo Shearin receiving congratulations from Dean Teri Schwartz.

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