During a course that I am teaching at the seminary this fall, one of my students told me that instead of giving them an exam, I should ask them to tell me stories in the same way that I use stories in my lectures. She went on to explain that her mind works better if she can connect a story to a particular concept. The story brings the concept to life and she is able to remember it better than she would the concept alone.
Jesus Christ was a story teller. The parables that he used are stories. Sometimes these stories are historical - they actually happened. Other times, like every good story teller, he created them for the sake of illustrating the lesson he wanted to teach. A preacher friend of mine who has gone to be with the Lord told me one time that most of us as preachers do not spend enough time finessing the conclusions of our sermons. He ended all of his sermons with a brief story. He then told us that he would read somewhere between 50-60 stories each week, looking for the perfect story to end his sermon.
Our family learned hospitality from my next door neighbor who was also my aunt. She had an expression that God’s courtyard and table are very wide. While I believed that idea too, she transferred that concept to her own courtyard and table. People from the village stopped by her courtyard to talk, to rest, to hear a word of comfort. Her door was always open, or if it was not one could knock and if she was home she would welcome you in. However, it was not only her courtyard that was open. Her table was always open to friends both new and old. She would ask people if they had eaten and if they were in a hurry she would give them some bread, some cheese and often some milk to drink. If they could tarry they would be invited to stay for lunch or dinner. Her life and her story have affected my life, the life of my parents and the lives of my wife and daughters and taught us about true hospitality.
I also learned from a story that some things are better left unsaid. After the death of the wife of one of the church’s elders, another elder decided to tell him that his deceased wife had a brief affair about forty years before she died. The comment was made in a complimentary way. He told the husband that he was a saint to love his wife so much, considering that she had this affair when they were in the first years of their marriage. The problem was that he did not know about this affair. The news devastated him so much that he went to the cemetery and dug up the coffin to have a conversation with his dead wife! When we heard this story, we could not believe that this person felt that he needed to tell this story, without a thought for the possible consequences. This story has shaped me into a better counselor and pastor who is entrusted with many details of people’s lives. While I am not a Catholic priest, I do practice the confessional rules and absolutely never repeat the things heard in privacy or tell any stories that could have a negative effect on the hearer.
The last story that shaped me was a story told by one my favorite teachers. He read a letter to the editor in a magazine that was surprisingly written by his pastor. In this letter, his pastor wrote that would rather be a fool on fire for the Lord than a scholar on ice. My professor says that he took that magazine, laid it on his bed, knelt down and prayed for God to make him a scholar on fire for the Lord. Today he is regarded as one of the top New Testament scholars and his lectures are always regarded as hours of worship because he is indeed a scholar on fire for the Lord. His story and what I have seen of his life have shaped my life in such a way that I love to teach in the academic setting, I like the rigors of the academy, but I also like to bring these academic concepts into my preaching and teaching in the church.
What stories have shaped you? What are some stories that people remember about you, stories that will shape them? While I have not re-written my exams, I am glad that I have stories to tell that shape people’s lives and enable them to remember the more difficult subjects.