Church Word Watch
Everyone's Story Matters
Stories have always been important in my working life. As an English teacher, I encouraged my students to write their stories and to enjoy and understand the stories of other writers. As a PR person and journalist, stories were my daily bread. As a psychotherapist, I was trained to listen openly first to my own stories about my life and then to the stories of my clients’ lives.
Stories are all around and within each of us. Each of us is a spin doctor, spinning tales around the dining tables of our lives, in our families, at work, in our social lives. We cast ourselves as heroes or victims of action, as strong or weak, as successful or failing.
Our ‘big’ life stories are full of mini-narratives about our relationships – our relationships to ourselves, to other people. We create pictures of our families and friends – of those close to us and those further away. We give them roles too – central or marginal, influential or unimportant. We describe our choices. We describe the choices that we make and give accounts of why we made them. We describe what was important in our thinking, who was responsible for the choice, whether or not we were free to make the choice, whether circumstances were manageable or not, whether other people influenced us or not. Family and friends, workmates, the context, the environment, our abilities, our education...all are allocated roles and responsibilities in our stories.
Not all the stories we tell are told with words. In the way we present ourselves, in the way we speak, in the consumer choices we make, in the cars we buy or don’t buy and the clothes we wear, we are creating pictures of ourselves, stories about our lives, narratives which satisfy us to a greater or lesser extent. Our choices show how we read ourselves, how we account for who we are, how we expect other people to ‘read’ us. Sometimes we are intentional about the tales we spin; sometimes we are not. People sometimes say, ‘I don’t care what I look like or what other people say about me.’ To say that you aren’t telling a story is, of course, to tell a story.
In the stories of religious people, there are roles for extra characters. When we talk to each other about our lives, when we tell the stories of our lives in worship, once again, we build up stories to explain who we are, what we do and why we do it. Some of these stories we call, ‘theology’ or ‘words about God’. We choose our characters, we create our stories; in turn, the characters we choose, the stories we tell, create us.
In Church Word Watch, I shall be looking closely at ‘Stories Christians Tell’ – at the stories we live by, at the words we use, at the pictures of God we favour, at the roles we give ourselves and others, at the pictures we paint.
And I shall be asking – what do these stories really tell us about God, what do they tell us about ourselves, what effects do they have on us – and, maybe most important – are they true?