When my boys were small, we often spent long summer afternoons crunched together on the front steps, where I would make up long, involved, and dramatically enhanced stories for them. The stories usually involved anthropomorphized trucks and fire engines, their favorite figures at the time, racing down our street to tackle crises in the neighboring yards and parks.
This past January, I attended a conference on Biblical storytelling sponsored by RevGals and led by the inimitable Casey Fitzgerald, a storyteller par excellence. We all spent a lot of time making new friends and getting better acquainted with those we had already met,* but our official learning sessions were focused on Biblical storytelling.
How are the stories of the Bible told in your church? If you are like most of us, they are read, with varying levels of skill, by members and pastors, from a lectern or a pulpit, set somewhat apart from the congregation, during worship on Sunday morning. Some readers, having not looked at the text until they have begun to read it aloud, stumble over unfamiliar words. Others read slowly and pause frequently for dramatic event. Many race through the words in a monotone. And a few read as they would read a story aloud to children, with changes in voice and speed appropriate to the telling.
But how many of us TELL, or hear told, the Biblical readings as the stories they are? Casey urged us to learn the stories by heart ~ which, if you give it some thought, is a different proposition entirely from the memorizing of their words. Learn them as they speak to you in your deepest places, and tell them as the emotional experiences that good stories are.
We learned, and practiced, all kinds of ways of storytelling. We tried out the same stories in different voices ~ voices of fear, of confidence, of wonder, of skepticism. We made cartoons and wrote poems and watched Lego movies of stories. We explored in depth stories about women whose roles and passions are often overlooked in the rush to focus on the male actors.
And we returned home filled with the hope that we could communicate the Biblical story to our listeners in ways that give the stories themselves, rather than our own commentary, pride of place. I think we all long for our congregations to respond to the stories of the Bible with the same wonder and delight my boys found in the stories of trucks rushing down our street to save the playground.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can go to the website for the Network of Biblical Storytellers, and you can find Casey Fitzgerald at Faith and Wonder.
*The photo is a RevGals tradition, born of the days when people were reluctant to post identifiable images online. (I’m at the bottom.)