Last April my father turned ninety years old (which by extension means I’m getting up in years too…). Dad is moving slower these days but he is surprisingly healthy and his mind is as nimble as ever. You would think that most people who have traversed nine decades would be happy to celebrate by opening cards, eating cake, and taking a nap. But no.
He wanted to tell stories.
If you know my dad you probably have a smile on your face right now – he is well known for the narratives he spins as easily as the rest of us walk and breathe. I grew up in a home where even the smallest daily experience could become a lesson, an irony, a joy to be shared. He was born to tell life-stories and his easy observations kept many of us seasoned with delight and pathos.
More than a year ago he announced that he wanted to mark his ninetieth birthday with ninety random stories from his life; he hoped to put these memories together to share with us. Well, he wrote his ninety stories, added some photographs, tossed in some samples of his artwork, and assembled them into a rather attractive booklet.¹
Dad did all the writing but it should be noted that my sister Sandra helped with much of the organizing and typing, and Cheryl handled the printing and binding. They did the heavy lifting but I did my part by final editing.
As I threaded my way through the pages I discovered all kinds of nuggets about my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and some of the circumstances in their lives: the hardships, the resilience, the personalities, the celebrations. But as I continued reading I began to sense something else … they weren’t just his stories, they were our stories. The people and the experiences were ingredients in the stew now called Brian.
I was reminded that we are all formed by a variety of ingredients like genetics, experiences, economics, geography, religion. People. We are never our own, we are always part of something larger.
It’s partly how I experience my faith. My theology has changed a lot over the years and if you read this blog regularly you’ll know that I am critical of much of what evangelicalism has become.
However I simply have to read some christian history to realize that this is nothing new: others have been here before me; others have thought this long before I did; others have wrestled like I have. I am part of something deeper, wider – as grand as the stretch of history and as small as my personal experiences.
And when I am with christian friends I’m always surprised at how easily we talk and fellowship. Theology fades into the background and a peaceful Spirit shows up to join us. I think it’s because we share a Story and our deepest common conviction is that we are God’s beloved.
Stories are better than sermons because they move people, change them, bring personal meaning. We relate to stories because they are experiences we can all own: That’s their story but it could just as easily be mine. It’s why Jesus told stories and I guess that’s why my dad does too.
What’s your story? What are some things you should tell about? They don’t have to be complex or spectacular – just yours. I am positive you have something important to say – it gains so much currency when you share with someone who needs to hear it.
My father has taught me many things but story-telling is one of the big ones. Yeah, I’ve been known to spin a yarn or two in my day … it’s just natural.
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¹ The picture at the top of this post is one of his sketches.