Yesterday my son heard a story.
This is not unusual. I am one of those writerly dads who fills his children’s minds with many different tales. Poor babies.
I’m sure many of you do the same. Our stories include The Girl with Golden Wings, The Rabbits at Jupiter Crossing, A Polar Bear Named Fray, Clive the Mouse, and many, many more. I tell them these little stories (usually works of immediate improvisation, sometimes not) mostly to delight.
Now, I don’t see stories as merely a vehicle for communicating truth. In fact I have been one who has argued against allegorical, message-infested stories. They often really stink. But I’m beginning to be less and less certain about what might be an impossible divorce of story and meaning. And meaning means truth. And truth is not neutral. It is from an actual, particular God.
The God who is there.
I have no less disgust than I’ve ever had with trite stories that are merely vehicles for preaching –as stories. But I am coming to see that everything we do, including tell and listen to stories, is deeply meaningful. At the back of all meaning is God. In fact, he is not silent anywhere good exists. His word is even there in every lie, in every sin –these are all distortions, perversions of his world, his voice.
In the tales I tell my children I find myself inevitably communicating truths, values, morals and wisdom. Service is exalted, obedience to rightful authority honored. Bravery is portrayed as noble. Characters are not praised for their pride and selfish acts. Actually, they sometimes are –in the story- but that serves to illustrate another truth –the truth that sometimes that’s what happens in life. Truth is inescapable, even in a silly era where autonomous creation of “truth” is exalted.
So the idea, it seems to me, is to tell the truth about the way God’s world really is, and tell a delightful story while we’re at it. I consider myself to be one who is on a journey towards being able to tell good stories, with some hopeful and some discouraging signs. And it almost goes without saying that anyone who loves and follows the Lord Christ will increasingly love and be saturated in his Word.
I think it might come down to telling the truth while we are telling whatever it is we are telling. This goes for fiction as well. In all your telling, tell truthfully.
But trying to tell the (actual, knowable) truth, while we are telling whatever we are telling, has big implications.
I discovered this when I began telling my son his story. It was his birthday, he turned four, and I was recounting his life and telling him what he is like. His story. “The night you were born you slept on my chest all night and didn’t move,” it began. When I wanted to talk about his courage, I found things he understood about courage in our little stories, and in the other stories we love.
“You are like Robin Hood, courageous and loyal, committed to the true authority, even when it’s hard and doesn’t get you an immediate reward. You love to protect your sister, like Gawain, the noble knight. You have a humble heart, like Abraham, believing Yahweh.” On and on, truth after truth, story after story, identification with what is noble and worth thinking about and being like.
So we cannot help but be shaped by the stories we hear and identify with. It’s not neutral.
The world God made is full of meaning.
Every story teaches.
But what do the stories we write teach? What about the ones we live?