Because life is a series of edits

On Storytelling

In Books, Humanity on April 2, 2007 at 9:18 pm

“The greatest religions convert the world through stories.”
– Ben Okri

Dan Allender’s book, The Healing Path, is a good reminder of what we’re not called to do with our hurt and heartache – that is, to stuff, squelch, or suppress it. Avoiding the other extreme, Allender does a good job of going beyond any “express yourself” storytelling for one’s own sake; rather, he explains (albeit melodramatically at times) how stories – good, bad, and sometimes very ugly – are ours to tell for others and for the glory of God.

Of course, this kind of clichéd “sharing” can often bring to mind those early-Tuesday morning Bible study devotionals or long-winded campfire confessionals, all endured in the name of graciousness and friendship. Allender, however, does not try to merely encourage the generic sharing of a prepared testimony of faith; rather, he encourages the messenger to understand that who he or she is – as a personal embodiment of God’s larger story – is what we should be sharing in real and tangible ways. He writes:

“I am the network of all my relationships present, past, and future. And my conscious grasp of who I am revolves around the stories of those relationships. We never define ourselves in abstract (I am a pastor, a homemaker, a student) without also associating those labels with myriad stories remembered and forgotten. Our identities are suffused with narrative. I am a confederation of stories, relationships, and memories.” (61)

That I am such a confederation is good for me to remember, as I repeatedly forget I am a flesh-and-bone, heart-and-soul image of God and not just a container for the knowledge of God. The difference in mindset may seem a case of mere semantics, but the distinction (and its implication) is profound: if I’m a container, I can only hold what I know about God; as an image, aspects of who I am actually help me understand who God is.

This is why Allender is so intent on encouraging his readers to stay on the healing path of storytelling by not burying their pasts, numbing their presents, or fearing their futures. Instead, he prescribes a fierce and biblical clinging to hope, for

“Hope takes the experience of loss and powerlessness and uses it as the raw material for writing a new and unexpected story. When we lose hope, we stop remembering and telling stories that arouse our desire and anticipation. Our thoughts become narrow, focused on loss rather than on what will one day be sure and true.” (137)

For me, I think, my desire to write is a symptom of my greater desire to share with others not just what I think, but also who I am. And yet, as much as I enjoy writing (and have the sense that others enjoy reading what I write), I recognize that writing can be a noble discipline that – despite the appearance of transparency and vulnerability – still maintains a safe and comfortable distance between others and myself. Do people want to know what I think, or know who I am? Which do I really want them to know? Hmmm.

The same set of questions applies in person, as even though most people tend to like me, I’m told I’m hard to get know. I don’t mean to be, but then again I don’t mean to be a lot of things (selfish, prideful, and easily-frustrated come to mind, among others) that I am. There again, though, shifting the source of my stories from that of what I know to that of who I am could help, as the act of sharing myself with others would require a lot more from me than just regurgitating what I know (or think I know). To that end, I like Allender’s definition of accountability a lot more than the normal evangelical one:

“Accountability is storytelling in a round that brings each voice into play, ultimately forming a chorus that sings in praise of forgiveness, glories in the harvest to come, and rests in the gratitude of a day done.” (254)

Accountability as storytelling (and not just declaration of guilt)? A chorus that sings of praise, glory, and rest? I’m for that (as long as somebody else goes first while I warm up).

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  1. that quote on “hope” is fantastic. this book must be a new one by dan allender. i hadn’t heard of it. if it is 1/2 as good as you say (and it probably is-i think his books are great!)i will have to read it. your description of “albeit melodramatically at times” describes better than i would, how his books are. but that is ok. i think i’m melodramatic so it is good to read a book by someone who seems more melodramatic than i. than i don’t feel so crazy. i love the word pictures he paints. they are so vivid. martha

  2. Not a new one, Martha – came out in 1999, I believe.

  3. […he encourages the messenger to understand that who he or she is – as a personal embodiment of God’s larger story – is what we should be sharing in real and tangible ways.]
    Sounds like a scripture verse: “You are a letter from Christ…written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts…” II Corinthians 3:3

    Telling God’s story in a way that no one else can–that’s our life purpose.

    Thanks for these quotes by Dan Allender. I read this back in 2000; it’s time to get the book out and re-read it!

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