These Are Our Stories

I’ve been thinking recently about how stories are uniquely human. Though some would argue that animals tell stories too, I’m not sure I agree. They certainly communicate, but that’s not the same as telling a story. Of course, I haven’t studied this, so someone could easily prove me wrong. But I contend that storytelling is part of our being God’s image bearers because God is the author of The Big Story. Already in Genesis 1 and 2 we find God telling a story—a story that reveals the origins of the world not in factual, scientific language but through narrative and poetry. Scripture itself is one long story of creation, fall, and redemption, a story that gets repeated again and again even in modern fiction, and a story in which we find our very selves.

Good stories stick in our memories and become a part of us. Good stories reveal something about ourselves or the world. Good stories nourish, heal, inspire, and teach. Stories are uniquely human. They are a gift.

Yet so often we ignore that gift. In Western culture, we certainly haven’t paid enough attention to the art of storytelling. We have much to learn from Indigenous cultures that have perfected this art and pass on their history, culture, and teachings through stories. We don’t often make room for stories in our lives or in our worship. We seem to have relegated stories to the realm of children. I wonder if, rather than seeing stories as a medium for truth telling, we have mistaken “story” for “fiction” (in the worst sense of the word). Or maybe stories are suspect because they aren’t directed at the head as much as the heart. Whatever the reason for overlooking our own stories, it’s time that we reclaim them and learn how to tell them well.

The teachings of Jesus begin in story and end in symbol—they begin in parable and end in us. These are not Bible stories that we learn; these are our stories. —Leonard Sweet, Soultsunami

This issue of Reformed Worship is full of ideas for storytelling. The issue begins with considering how we might best use the digital medium for embodied worship, a unique way of storytelling (p. 3). The worship series “What Is God Like” (p. 12) encourages us to use our imaginations and wonder together about what our great, awesome God is like even as we acknowledge that we can never fully describe or understand God. We tell the story of Christ’s birth through candle-lighting liturgies (p. 19) and children’s dramas (p. 27). We are encouraged to tell disturbing stories (p. 32), including the story of the slaughter of the innocents from Matthew 2 (p. 36). Rev. Scott Hoezee encourages pastors to use stories to pull people into the biblical text (p. 47). We learn about how churches in Scotland allow children to tell their stories through play in worship (p. 44), and we are offered a template for inviting individuals to tell their particular stories in a New Year’s Eve service (p. 40).

What is your story? How do you see God in it? What is the story of your congregation? Your community? Where is the Holy Spirit at work in those stories? We hope this issue will spark your imagination as you look for ways to include the beauty and power of story in your worship so your people can confidently claim both God’s revelation in Scripture and God’s ongoing revelation in the life of individuals and communities as part of their stories.

Rev. Joyce Borger is senior editor of Reformed Worship and a resource development specialist at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Reformed Worship 145 © September 2022, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.