Short Stories

Life without stories is life without context — and stories that satisfy the human need for belonging need room for development.

By Dudley Hall Published on October 2, 2015

DUDLEY HALL — The mother was distraught. She had grown up in a large family who enjoyed meal times together. She remembered the happy bonding time around the table as each family member eventually told stories about their daily experiences. She had dreamed of her own children having a similar experience, but it just wasn’t happening.

At first they brought their cell phones to the table. That was soon prohibited. Now they just sat and ate with very little chitchat. Any contribution to the conversation was usually short and often terse. They were good kids. They just didn’t elaborate. Maybe they have the “Twitter-virus.” You know — everything must be said within 140 characters. Let’s face it. You can’t tell much of a story in 140 characters.

Life without stories is life without context, and stories that satisfy the human need for belonging need room for development. There must be a setting with main characters. Some issue or conflict to be solved supplies the mystery and the meaning. The plot doesn’t have to be long, but even short plots have some rising action. And of course there must be a climax and the resulting resolution.

Without interlocking stories, life’s experience is just a blur. It is then easy to reduce our lives to a search for moments of pleasure, avoiding anything inconvenient or complex.

We learn to see the stories in life by listening to storytellers. Young children love the bedtime stories. Older youth gain from hearing parents, uncles and aunts tell their stories. I remember fondly sitting on the porch listening to my dad and his friends tell stories of their experiences. Some were so funny I would lose my breath laughing. Others were serious, but it was easy to see the lessons even when no one pointed them out.

I discovered that some people are better storytellers than others, but they weren’t always the ones with the most interesting stories. There was a lasting impression: Everyone has a story and it is worth hearing. Perhaps we could regain some lost ground in relationships if we took the time to think about our own story, listen to others tell their story, and read the Bible as the story that connects all the other stories with meaning and purpose.

My parents took me to church as a child. Actually, my first memory of church comes from a class called “Story Hour.” It was taught by “Miss Lily,” an older lady who lived alone as a widow. She brought cookies, and we sat around her rocking chair as she told us Bible stories. For a long time I considered the Bible as a book full of good stories, but I didn’t see how they all connected — except they all had moral lessons that were supposed to teach me to be a better boy. It was a great delight when I finally saw that the whole thing was a story. It is the “meta-story” that makes sense of all stories.

The story begins a long time ago in a beautiful garden far away where God’s two favorites live and work. However, there was a serpent there. (See the main characters?) The serpent tempted the pair, and they succumbed and fell out of the garden and their open relationship with God. (See the conflict?) The story then proceeds through a long series of events leading to God’s Son coming to Earth to restore the humans back to God. (Rising action?) When the God-man arrives instead of being welcomed, he is scorned and eventually crucified. However, in a stunning climax, he doesn’t stay dead, but is resurrected to claim ultimate victory over the serpent and bring just reconciliation between God and his people.

There is no story like it in the whole world! There are substitutes and imitations, but this story alone brings the resolution that all people everywhere long to find.

That is our story. Adam and Eve were the first parents. We are connected to them and all those who followed. Some had terrible experiences. Some had great ones. They all combine to reveal the true nature of God, the source of trouble, and the solution to our alienation. Knowing this story connects us to history, humanity and eternity. Life without stories is life without context.

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