Stories of Redemption
By Jon Huckins Posted on June 20 2011
As I write this, I am traveling internationally seeking to build common ground between two people groups who have demonized one another through polarizing rhetoric and histories of resentment. Behind the caricatures I am amazed at the dynamic human stories of hope and perseverance that share so much in common with one another. In large part, it is the humanity of these stories I am seeking to illuminate with a group of fellow peacemakers.
Jesus lived and taught in a similar context of polarizing rhetoric, warring ideologies and religious division. Whether the militant propaganda of the Roman Empire or the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, each stood as a potential hurdle in the promotion of Jesus’ unifying story and reign of the Kingdom of God.
In the case of warring storylines, both the ancient and modern, the Story of God has the ability to transcend the rhetoric through the continued advance of God’s Kingdom as was inaugurated in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The Story of Jesus’ reign swallows up the stories of infighting and offers a hope that invites all to participate in his Story of restoration. His Story redeems humanities’ stories.
Interestingly, as Jesus shares the good news of the Kingdom, he often employs storytelling that takes into account the warring storylines of his day. As a first century rabbi, he develops brilliant parables (known as Jewish Agada) that are rooted in reality, but are able to transcend the rhetoric and create a common ground that points to the hope of the Kingdom.
Over 1/3 of all Jesus’ teaching was done through storytelling. Jesus represented a new Story and he uses the art of storytelling as a key resource in sharing his central message of the Kingdom of God.
Storytelling not only has the ability to transcend the rhetoric and create common ground, it engages the listener in a way that invites and transforms. Teaching through the art of storytelling creates a medium for the listening mind to activate in a linear, flowing manner.
Listening is central to the growth and development of most human beings. Studies show that 85 percent of what we know we’ve learned through listening (Shorpe). Yet we only remember 20 percent of what we hear and 75 percent of the time we’re distracted, preoccupied, or forgetful (Hunsaker). So, we understand that listening is really important, but it can be a highly inefficient way to transfer information depending on the mode of communication. Some argue that offering convincing statistics engages the listener and creates lasting impact, but studies also tell us that people quickly dismiss statistics that are inconsistent with their beliefs (Graesser).
But fictional stories—which can be processed very efficiently with minimal effort and high recall—offer “suspension of disbelief,” which can lead to tangible change (Bower & Graesser). For this reason, some in the medical field have implemented storytelling as a mode of healthcare communication, bringing attention to issues such as suicide to AIDS prevention.
So we’re left with story—the telling of which can break down walls of cynicism and mental distraction and lead listeners toward engagement. The art is in assimilating fiction into belief, which why intentional dialog and discussion is pivotal to its success.
Employing the art of storytelling, I once wrote and told a story to my teenagers whose main character, Chloe, dealt with depression, loneliness and cutting. I shared it over the course of a few weeks at our mid-week gathering, but I could see that one teenager was especially impacted. During my second week of telling the story, this teenager stood up and quickly walked out of the room in distress. One of our youth workers followed close behind and found out that this teenager also struggled with cutting and could no longer walk alone in the struggle.
This student chose to be engaged by this story. This ancient form of storytelling—Jewish Agada—had become so real to her that she began wrestling with some of the biggest issues she’d ever faced in her young life. She heard Chloe’s story and realized that it was her story.
In short, Jesus’ Story redeems the warring stories that degrade and divide. Further, it is through storytelling that Jesus illustrates the newly inaugurated Kingdom and engages his audience with the good news of the Kingdom of God.
As participants in the Story of God and as youth workers who seek to transcend the warring storylines our teenagers are being invited into each day, may we aspire to emulate our teacher and Rabbi in his way of storytelling.