What’s at risk when we tell a bible story?

At the 2008 Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, I led a workshop on “What’s At Risk When We Tell A Bible Story.” I believe that workshops for practitioners of a craft are collaborative enterprises – as the leader, I’ll bring interesting ideas and materials, but my hope is that everyone will pitch in with their own thoughts. This group came up with splendid ideas, so I am making their thoughts available here.

Here’s the description of the workshop: What’s at Risk When We Tell A Bible Story? When we start telling bible stories we tend to obsess about forgetting the words – but there are other, less-obvious risks we take when we tell a Bible story. This workshop will explore the rocky ground between the storyteller’s self and the vision of ethical, informed, generous, holy biblical storytelling.

At the workshop, we used a three-step model for Biblical storytelling and considered, at each step, how to do that step well and how to do it carelessly – without respect and tenderness. These responses are based on the work and witness of fifteen storytellers. They come from the heart, and they are offered to your heart.

We receive a story from scripture. Here are some ways to receive it well:

  • We can seek to understand the story.
  • We are open to being puzzled or confused by the story, but we let ourselves be drawn in.
  • We can let the story nurture us. We can let it change us.
  • We can identify the story, we can let it be written on our hearts.
  • Here are some ways to turn aside from wholeness as we receive the story:

  • We could treat it as words, not story.
  • We could resist where the story wants to lead us, maybe because we are in a hurry or because the story frightens us.
  • We could come to the story hampered by our own preconceptions, even by our own close-mindedness.
  • We could treat the story as Law, not as Gospel.
  • We could fail to study the story.

    What’s at risk when we don’t do a good job receiving a story? We cheat people – ourselves, our listeners. We let our own limits construct limits to the quantum power of the story.

    As Biblical storytellers, we also need to tend the stories we have learned. Here are some ways to tend them well:

  • Befriend the story.
  • Weave your stories into your daily life…
  • … and into your prayer life…
  • …and into your journaling.
  • Let your understanding of the stories change and grow.
  • Study, do research, and integrate what you learn into your telling.
  • Seek refreshment in your life with the story.
  • Tend the storyteller, too! What daily life-practices of self-care make you able and ready – physically, emotionally, mentally – to stand up and tell?
  • Here are some ways to turn aside from wholeness as we tend the story:

  • Ignore it. Don’t spend time with it. Don’t engage with it. Box it up.
  • Numbness – resisting the emotional life and power of the story.
  • Not challenging yourself and your own interpretation of the story.
  • Isolation. [Participants – what did this mean?]

    What’s at risk when we don’t do a good job tending a story and tending the storyteller? We don’t have oil for our lamps – when our witness is needed, we’re not ready.

    As storytellers, we give the stories to others. Here are some way to give the stories well:

  • The message is urgent – speak with conviction…
  • …and with tenderness – for the story, for the listeners.
  • Ignore the negative [Participants – what did this mean?]
  • Work in the moment. Things might not go according to your plans, so be flexible.
  • When the atmosphere is bad, own it and articulate it. You are in charge! Stop and have a prayer…
  • …or lead a song

    Here are some ways to turn aside from wholeness as we tell the story:

  • Unkindness or impatience with our listeners.
  • Letting ourselves be blinded by magical thinking – I don’t need to study/tend/work/think because it’s about God so everything will be peachy!
  • Rigidity. My way is the only right way to understand this story!
  • Overwhelming people with the emotionality of the story.

    What’s at risk when we don’t do a good job giving a story? Confirming people’s idea that the Bible is so boring, blood-soaked or inexplicable that they don’t want anything to do with it.

    People will forgive you if you forget the words. Audiences are on your side. Let their kindness hold you up.

    Finally – Pamela’s invisible Storyteller’s Shawl, for which this blog is named. You are welcome to borrow it at any time!

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