Back to Index

Tell the Stories
February 28, March 1

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8b-13

How to succeed, not just survive. The D____ B___ in your bulletin stands for DREAM BIG!, which we looked at last week. To succeed, not just survive, expand your parameters, set your expectations high. Dream big.

Our topic today: Tell the Stories. To succeed, not just survive, tell the stories. Leonard Sweet writes, We can scream about the moral failure of society. We can blame an absentee parent-class. We can point to a general cultural glorification of violence. But the greater problem may be that inside this burgeoning generation of frightened and frightening children, there is a huge hollow in the heart where all the stories of our ancestors, all the tales of woes and warning, all the familiar recitations of dreams and hopes should reside. Without these kinds of comforting, guiding, threatening, promising, teasing, telling stories, our children have no landmarks, no moral maps, no hitching posts to guide them on their way. Our shared stories used to keep us joined together at the heart, even when our paths seldom crossed. Common stories that fostered communal beliefs kept a strong message of ethics and expectations flowing from one generation to the next.

In Jewish culture, storytelling is the predominant way each new generation is invited to personally step into the stream of salvation history. Deuteronomy 26:1-11 contains a creed which the worshipers recited at the Thanksgiving festival. Tithes from the first harvest were brought to the worship place, and then the story was recited, the story of who they were, where they had come from, a story of their roots. The creed begins with, "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous." Who is the wandering Aramean? Jacob. His father? Isaac. His grandfather? Abraham. Jacob settled in Egypt because of the famine, and his son, Joseph, was an official of the P>government.

Notice the pronoun "my." The story is very personal. The next phrase is even more personal. "When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us." Us! Not them, not even "our ancestors." But, us! Those who tell the story are involved. It is our story, not someone else's, not even our ancestors. "The Egyptians treated us harshly, the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm...and he brought us into this place and gave us this land." Us and our. Our story. Many psychologists and psychiatrists are finding that orthodox Jewish child-raising practices are successful because of the combination of storytelling and highly ritualized celebrations that act out the stories.

Do you recall the powerful impact on African Americans when Alex Haley researched and wrote Roots? Ancestors of black Americans had been uprooted from their homeland, separated from their families, their ancestors, separated even from their spouses and children, and sold as slaves. How important it was to African Americans for the stories to be told, the stories of who they are, who they were, where they came from. In my "humble" opinion, the best picture last year (of those I have seen) is "Amistad." Steven Spielberg tells the story, based quite accurately on an historical incident, of slaves who took over their ship, were arrested, and eventually, represented by John Quincy Adams, won their freedom from the Supreme Court. A powerful, moving story. What is hinted at in the movie, and what actually subsequently occurred, is that several were converted to Christ, returned to their African homeland with Brethren missionaries, and, through mergers, are now part of the United Methodist Church.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, through technological advancement of computer imaging and graphics which made it possible to bring more life and depth to cartoon characters, reached backward in time to portray some of the oldest, most beloved, time-tested fairy tales that have ever been told. Our children were treated to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King (which is a traditional African folk lore), and soon The Prince of Egypt (the story of Moses). Our children need stories; we all need stories to fill the hollow in the heart.

Tell the stories. Tell the stories to your children, to your grandchildren, to the neighborhood children, to Sunday School children! Tell the Bible stories. Tell the stories of Jesus. Use personal pronouns-- us, we, our. Tell the church's story. Tell them about John Wesley. Tell them your family stories. To succeed, not just survive, our children and grandchildren need roots, deep roots imbedded in their faith and their family, roots that will hold the tree sturdy when the wind blows, the ground shakes, and the waters flood.

After last week's sermon in which I used Albert Schweitzer as an example of a big dreamer who devoted his life to humble service, Diane Riise told me that her grandmother grew up in the same German village with Albert Schweitzer. Her grandmother used to tell Diane stories, but she, like most of us, didn't pay that much attention. She didn't realize who Albert Schweitzer was. Now, Diane is sorry she didn't memorize the stories, or write them down. When Ellie's father was dying, Ellie had the presence of mind to take a tape recorder with her to Arizona, and there in the hospital, he told the stories, and she recorded them. Someday (!), we will transcribe them so his grandchildren and great grandchildren can not only hear, but read the stories.

My son, Craig, gave me for Christmas a software package called "Family Tree Maker." I have begun entering the data we know. Someday (!) I will devote time and research, and will print out the family tree for my children and grandchildren. We have traced my Norris ancestors back to the Mayflower, and according to one tradition, our family can be traced back to William the Conqueror. Deep roots.

Both of my grandfathers were wonderful story tellers. I sat completely enthralled with the tales they told. I wish they had been written or recorded. My favorite Grandpa Norris story, which he loved to repeat, is the time he was in school (a one-room country school in Minnesota) and had to go badly. He raised his hand, but the teacher told him he had to wait until recess. A while later, he raised his hand again and told her he had to go badly. She told him he had to wait. He didn't know what to do until he had the bright idea to use his boot! But, it ran over, and to this day, even though the school house had been purchased by a farmer who now used it as his granary, you can see the stain on the floor! When we would drive by that farm, my parents thought I had lost my mind, because I wanted to stop to examine the granary floor! I tell this story, which some might consider inappropriate, to illustrate that the family stories you tell do not have to be of grandiose saints who braved fire and flood, but ordinary people doing extraordinary things!

Children and youth, I have a challenge. On the way home today, right there in the car, ask your parent(s), "When and how did our family come to the United States? When and how did we come to Merced?" Note the pronoun "we." Ask your parent(s) to tell you your story.

To succeed, not just survive, Dream ___ (Big), and Tell the _____ (Stories). Nourish the roots. Continued next week.

We celebrate Holy Communion today, which is a ritualized reenactment of Jesus' last supper with his friends, our ancestors in the faith. Hear the story as our story.

Remember how we went to supper that evening? It was a party. We were celebrating the Passover. We call it a Seder Dinner now. We were having a wonderful time, but there were some uncomfortable moments. Down at the other end of the table, several asked, "Is it I?", and then Judas got up and left. We weren't sure what that was all about. After we enjoyed the Passover ritual and ate the ceremonial foods, which told again the story of our deliverance from Egypt, Jesus took a loaf of bread. He broke it in half and said, "This is my body, broken for you." We had no idea what he meant. "Take and eat this and remember me." After supper he took a cup of wine, and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood (new covenant, what did he mean?) which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins." We had no idea what he was talking about, until the next day, when he died.

© 1999 Douglas I. Norris