Telling Our Stories
by Pastor David Wick, Ph.D
In Kingfish, a biography of Huey P. Long, the depression-era governor of and senator from Louisiana, Richard D. White tells the story of the first time Long campaigned in predominately Catholic southern Louisiana. Long was from the northern part of the state; his mother was a Baptist, and he had briefly attended seminary, gaining, it was said, the ability to quote Scriptures that weren’t even there. The local political boss was worried. White begins his account with the political boss’s concern:
“Huey, you ought to remember…we got a lot of Catholic voters down here.” “I know,” Huey replied; and throughout the day in every small town Long would begin by saying: “When I was a boy, I would get up at six o-clock in the morning on Sunday, and I would hitch our old horse up to the buggy and I would take my Catholic grandparents to mass. I would bring them home, and at ten o-clock would bring my Baptist grandparents to church.” The effect of the anecdote on the audiences was obvious, and on the way back to Baton Rouge that night the local leader said admiringly, “Why Huey, you been holding out on us. I didn’t know you had any Catholic grandparents.” “Don’t be a _____fool,” replied Long. “We didn’t even have a horse.”
This colorful example exposes the dangers inherent in a popular trend in contemporary Christianity, which some call “narrative theology” and others simply, “telling our stories.” The significance of this movement, according to theologian Stanley Grenz: “Our sense of personal identity develops as we tell our narrative, that story in which the various threads of our lives come together in a unified, meaningful whole. The personal narrative lies at the basis of a person’s sense of who he or she is.”
"...if we define ourselves by invention or embellishment we have not really entered into the light. Our true stories will always bring glory to God, not to ourselves."
I believe there is real value in “telling our stories” provided those stories are true, and are told in a way that testifies to God’s grace and gives evidence of reflection upon biblical truth. When Paul recounted the story of his early days as a Christian, he exclaimed “In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!” He did not consider himself above sharing details about himself that might be demeaning (2 Corinthians 10:10, 11:32 - 33; 1 Timothy 1:13, 15). The inherent danger in “telling our stories” lies in the temptation to embellish, to fabricate, to make ourselves either the triumphant hero, or the hapless victim who bears no personal responsibility.
Some years ago I heard a famous speaker at a conference. His illustrations were always about himself, and he was always the hero. The stories were amusing and involved the most remarkable circumstances in which he had always just the right word or action that brought everything to a joyous conclusion. After one session I was still chuckling over one of his anecdotes when I ran into a friend who wore a dour expression. “That last story,” my friend said, “do you think it really happened like that?” “I doubt it,” I had to admit. “Then why did he tell it that way?” my friend asked.
No doubt “telling our stories” can help us define who we are; but if we define ourselves by invention or embellishment we have not really entered into the light. Our true stories will always bring glory to God, not to ourselves.
Incidentally, Huey P. Long came from a relatively prosperous farm family. He had no Catholic grandparents, but his family had horses. Once the embellishment and fabrication begins, it becomes hard to stop. If the basis of our sense of self is fabricated - who are we, really?