Make room for storytelling, memoirs of faith as a spiritual practice

My father’s side of the family is especially good at storytelling.  I don’t know what it is about those LaGuardias, but their stories can captivate people for hours.

My late Grandpa Joe and one of my first cousins, Matt. …Two master storytellers.

It’s probably my Grandpa’s influence.  I remember attending barbeques (“grilling out” in the South) as a child and listening to him for hours as he told stories about serving in the Navy during the Second World War.  He told stories about his boxing exploits, of having a conflict with New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia for some obscure media mix-up in the 1950s, of causing mayhem in the streets of Brooklyn.

Then there’s my first cousin, Matt, a storyteller if there ever was one (a brother of three, all great storytellers), who still woos audiences with his tall-tales.  I still remember one of his creepy ghost stories he told me when I was five.  He scared me half to death then, and now I tell that same story every Halloween to kids in the neighborhood and scare them too.

My father inherited that storytelling gene.  Every time he talks about something that has happened to him, be it 20 years ago or 20 minutes ago, you have to decipher what is true and what is half-true.  Hyperbole is a common on that side of the family.

Perhaps that’s why I was so drawn to the Christian faith.  Christianity is, after all, a faith based on narratives told in a Book made up of many books.  Christianity’s Savior is a master storyteller–the “Great Parabler” in the words of my New Testament college professor.

And, even after all these years, I still love sitting down with Jesus, taking my place next to Mary at his feet, and listening to his stories.  “The Kingdom of God is like…”

It doesn’t matter how many times I hear those stories, they are still the greatest stories ever told.

Then there are the stories about the Storyteller.  They seem to be ghost stories at first–A few women meet what appears to be a ghost in the garden of Jesus’ tomb only to find out later that it really was Jesus in the flesh.  “Touch the wound in my side, Thomas.”  And it calls for us to believe in that Resurrection Story above all else.

Then there’s ministry.  Ministry is, in a nutshell, taking time to hear the stories of others–of people’s triumphs and celebrations, of their downfalls and of second-, third-, and four-hundredth chances at finding redemption.

These stories come at unexpected times, as gifts to be unwrapped:  In the hospital room, in a family room, in the church parking lot, on a porch, or while breaking bread together at the Oaks Family Diner.

If you listen hard enough and long enough, you can hear in people’s stories the echo of the Storyteller himself.  “You have heard it said, but I say to you.”  And there, in the midst of words, conversation, coffee, and great omelets (I prefer the “Dumpster” omelet myself) Christ shows up.

Anyone who has worked in prison or homeless ministries knows the power of stories.  Sometimes a story is all a person has to his name.

I guess the challenge for us, then, is to give people the chance to tell their stories.  Sometimes we are so quick to judge or figure out whether they belong, we don’t give people the chance to get a word in edgewise.

When I used to hang with street preachers back in Florida we were so eager to tell Christ’s story–still are; but I find much more power in hearing a person’s story first and then finding out where Christ shows up in the telling of their tale.

Storytelling is a spiritual practice that gets us beyond the pretense and pomp that sometimes distract us from being authentic with one another.  When we wear our “Sunday mask” too often, we forget that the sum of who we are is more than just how we get along for one hour on Sabbath morning.

Our stories, those very precious memoirs of faith, make up the totality of who we are and who we can become in Christ.

“Those who have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying!”

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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