Monthly Archives: October 2007

Marti Steussy’s Four Commandments of Biblical Storytelling

Found ’em!

These are from a workshop on Biblical Storytelling Marti Steussy offered in April of 2007 through the Network of Biblical Storytellers.

The Four Commandments of Biblical Storytelling

1. Thou shalt not reduce the story to a lesson.

2. Thou shalt engage the story with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength.

3. . . . including the parts thou objectest to.

4. Thou shalt help thy neighbor interact with the story.

I have often said that if I were not a happily married suburban grandma I would become a pilgrim and follow Walter Brueggemann all my days, but if Walter were not available, following Marti would be Option Two.


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Wrestling with Matthew

It’s overcast today but not raining (!) and the dog and I are thinking of taking a walk pretty soon.

On Saturday the 20th I told out at Waycross, the Episcopal conference center neat Bloomington, for a group from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Indianapolis. They were *wonderful* – responsive, interested, and full of ideas. I love it when I have a group small enough to talk over each story. Marti Steussy – professor of Biblical Interpretation at Christian Theological Seminary – has said that one of the Four Commandments of Biblical Storytelling is: Thou shalt allow listeners a chance to respond. But I can’t always do that with a big group, and not every group feels comfortable responding.

I forget what the other three Commandments are, but I could find them if I had to.

I’ve learned that sometimes when people ask for Biblical storytelling they want a teacher and sometimes they want an entertainer. I can do both – and the stories are well-suited to both – but if I’m not clear what role I’m in, it gets messy. The St. Paul’s folks wanted to get into the story and process it. That gives me such joy!

This week Carol Wolf wrote to ask about leading a workshop at next year’s NOBS Festival Gathering and – pushed along by my experience at Runcible Spoon – I offered to present a workshop on What’s At Risk When We Tell A Bible Story. When people start telling Bible stories they worry (at least I did) about getting every word exactly right. But there can be numerous other painful mistakes and misunderstandings, and if people can’t deal with those, they might give up. I almost did. So – I have in mind giving Biblical storytellers a chance to process discouragement and frustration together.

I called this blog “The Storyteller’s Shawl” with a very clear vision of what that shawl would look like, but countless hours with Google Image Search have failed to find such a shawl, and my attempts to draw one have generally not been satisfactory. But – the weather is closing in and I have no big programs to prepare for, so I have some study time to wrestle for a blessing with the Gospel of Matthew. Maybe, in the course of this, a shawl will emerge. My latest sketch is on the ABOUT page.

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2007 so far – notes on this year’s storytelling…

October 2007

I told Paul and Silas in Jail at the 20th Annual Hoosier Storytelling Festival, on Saturday in the Biblical Storytelling tent. Cold, windy day & a small crowd in our tent at that time, but *I* had fun. For more information about the Hoosier Storytelling Network, go to
And I’ve been sorting books and making my study ready for winter.


September 2007

A new venue and a very different audience! I told at the Runcible Spoon Poetry Series here in Bloomington on Friday, September 21, at the invitation of poet and storyteller Patricia Coleman, sharing the bill with Poetry, Storytelling and Irish Music by Tony Brewer & Barb Schwegman and Irish Music from the Fleadh Circus. I told some stories about St. Brendan, interwoven with a story of my own about encountering the sacred unreasonable.

It’s very different telling to people of no particular faith and I had allowed for that in my planning. I chose stories that wouldn’t put people on the spot with respect to their beliefs. What I did not allow for was that there would be people in the audience who were active participants in other faith communities. I feel like I disrespected someone and – as usual – life doesn’t have a rewind button. So – it was generally a good evening, but in that one way – for a few words – I didn’t live up to my own standards.

My goodness! Could this be my first mistake for 2007?? sky.jpg

Well – maybe not.


August 2007

The first week in August, all Biblical storytellers hustle down to Georgia for the annual Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers. I attended four workshops, heard countless great storytellers, and bought Richard Swanson’s new Provoking the Gospel of Matthew. Since then I’ve been working on my Web site and planning what stories I’ll study this autumn. I want to learn the stories between Palm Sunday and Gethsemane from Matthew, and I’m reading everything I can find about Matthew’s Little Apocalypse in Richard’s book, in in Warren Carter’s Matthew at the Margins, and in James Alison.

July 2007

July was a fine month for storytelling, with three wonderful tellings that couldn’t have been more different from each other. Saint David’s offered an evening of entertainment at the Gazebo in Nashville where I told a couple of non-Biblical stories – there was plenty of traffic noise and hubbub, but I was telling to friends and we had fun together.

I also told for the Indiana-Kentucky Synod Gathering of the Women of the ELCA, at a hotel in Indianapolis – a quiet, focused, intense group of people who stayed right with me for every word. What a joy it was to tell to them. To the woman in the yellow suit who said I was one of the best workshop leaders she’d ever heard – I’m still thrilled by your words.

And the third telling – on Joe and Sandy Ridenour’s back deck, to a group of friends, at evening by the lake. It’s hard to get any better than that.

June 2007

June was family time – our son graduated from Carleton College, and then I spent a couple of weeks babysitting for my grandson while our daughter took a couple of intensive courses at EDS. Along with several reading binges at the EDS Library I did have plenty of practice time, with this good listener!

May 2007

We were in Holland for a few weeks in May – my husband’s work takes him there every spring and he graciously allows me to come along. I was able to track down a Dutch biblical storyteller, Pete Pronk, and had the joy of hearing him tell at Sunday worship at the Keizersgrachtkerk in Amsterdam. I took a class with him later in the month – he brought his Dutch-English dictionary and I brought my English-Dutch dictionary. Here he is in his vertelleratelier – his storytelling studio.

April 2007

I’m still aglow about the holy, profound Easter Vigil at Saint David’s. Some years it all falls together just right…I got to tell the first creation story from Genesis, one of my very favorite tellings. The Sunday after Easter we offered our Easter Vespers for the community, an experience in liturgical storytelling based on the traditional Lessons and Carols service. For copyright reasons I can’t post the bulletin on this site, but get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to tell you more about it.

March 2007

In March I told stories on Wednesday evenings for the Lenten program at First Christian Church in Bloomington. This church already has a fine storytelling ministry with its young people, so they were trying this out with their adults. What a pleasure it was to get to know these wonderful people. The stories I told for Lent were stories Jesus told about planting and growing. It’s a strange, mind-expanding experience to tell the stories Jesus told.

Also in March I gave the How to Learn and Tell A Bible Story workshop at Under One Roof, the annual lay ministries convocation of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis. It was great to hang out with some other Episcopal storytellers – including a whole bunch from Saint Paul’s in Richmond, Indiana.


February 2007

In February I told the Ahab stories from 1 Kings at my home church, Saint David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom, Indiana. It’s an hour of tough stories and about twenty folks stuck it out with me. Their presence was much appreciated. The local community choir – the Bloomington Chamber Singers – performed Mendelssohn’s Elijah in March and to me the Ahab stories are an important context for the oratorio to make sense. Also – learning Ahab changed my life. This is the first time I’ve truly worked hard – for almost a year – on a story from the Hebrew scriptures. Seminarian Gabe Lamazares captures this experience beautifully – he’s one of my grandson’s godfathers. I also gave my workshop at First Christian Church in Bloomington, Indiana on How to Learn and Tell a Bible Story.

I visited my daughter and her family (she’s a student at the Episcopal Divinity School) and I had a fine time reading myself into insensibility at the EDS library. The real find was Walter Brueggemann’s 1 Kings. Here’s my daughter, telling a story (!!) at her seminary field placement parish.


January 2007

Two weeks in January found me making almost-daily visits to a friend in a rehabilitation hospital in Boston where he was recovering from a grave brain injury. Last year when I learned to tell the Ahab and Elijah sequence of stories I told myself that there couldn’t possibly be a situation where I could use them pastorally – but I was wrong. The anger, grief, and agonized frustration in those stories were perfect for the fifth floor of Spaulding Rehab, and gave me words to say when God knows I had no words of my own.

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