Showing posts with label Story-telling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Story-telling. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Criteria for a Good Husband-Storytelling?

Winema I am writing an historical youth novel on an actual young Modoc Native-American Indian woman named Wi-ne-ma (which means “woman-chief”).  Wi-ne-ma married (at the ripe old age of 14) a white miner from California. She became a central and critical part of the Modoc Indian Wars in the mid 1870’s in California and Oregon.

Her father allowed her to marry since Frank Riddle produced the six horses necessary as a gift to marry his daughter (it specifically was not a “price” but was a socially obligatory gift).

But Se-cot (Wi-ne-ma’s father) did not approve of the marriage, until afterwards he found out three things:

  1. Riddle was an excellent shot
  2. He was a good story teller
  3. He did not abuse alcohol. 

At that point, to show his approval for the marriage, he returned all the horses and added some from his own herds.

I am intrigued by #2.   While I understand that native American cultures were more verbal than written and thus storytelling took on a bigger role than it does in our culture, I am intrigued for a couple of reasons: 

  1. Story telling is such an essential part of preaching.  No matter what type of preaching you do, you need to be good at storytelling.  I am not talking about creating stories whole-cloth, but we need to have the observations skills and the ability to draw a mental picture for people and the enthusiasm that draws them in and makes them WANT to hear the picture.  Even as we tell the stories of the Bible, we can make them deadly dull, or we can make people feel as if they can at least catch a glimpse of what it was like to be there at that time and place. As we increase our skills at story telling, I believe we become better preachers. 

I came across a very simple list of skills necessary to improve one’s storytelling:

Voice Mechanics: Speaks with an appropriate volume for the audience to hear. Employs clear enunciation. Uses non-monotonous, vocal expression to clarify the meaning of the text.
Face/Body/Gesture: Expressively uses non-verbal communication to clarify the meaning of the text.
Concentration is clear.
Eye contact with audience is engaging.
Maintains a charismatic presence in space (stage presence).
Characterization: If dialogue is employed, characters are believable to listener. Storyteller's natural voice is differentiated from character voices.
Use of Space: Storyteller seems comfortable, relaxed and confident in front of listeners. Storyteller maintains clear spatial relationships for characters and narrator.
Pacing: The story is presented efficiently and keeps listeners' interest throughout.    (from here.)

I would add to this list good observation skills. As we observe what happens either in an event or in human life generally, or in a Biblical text, we have more data to be able to draw upon to build the scene or characters or action in our storytelling. 


2. We often think of storytelling as something that is reserved for “artistic types.”  And it may come easier to people who are more right brained.  But I would say that those who are more analytical can learn to be good storytellers because we have good observation skills and it is a skill in which we (at least) can improve. 

The story I am writing about Wi-ne-ma will be one that I will tell to a group of 4-5 graders the first of next month.  (The church camp we attend is named after her).  I didn’t used to think of myself as a good storyteller, but it is a skill in which I have grown AND have come to thoroughly enjoy. 

I am staying with my parents-in-law for a couple of weeks to help the family through a medical emergency.  I am sure glad they didn’t ask me how good I was at storytelling before I married Loretta!  (They might not have meant the same thing that Se-cot did!!)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reminiscences vs. Remembrance vs. Recollection


image This may seem like a purely intellectual rambling, but it is the space where I am. 

I am continuing to (slowly) work my way through Extemporaneous Oratory by James M. Buckley (1898).  For whatever it is worth, I am finding it very fascinating. 

In his book, Buckley has a chapter on “The Value and Tyranny of Reminiscences.” In preparation for preaching without notes, or more specifically, “extemporaneous preaching” he looks at the subject of memory.  He differentiates the three types of memory listed in the title of this post: Reminiscences, Remembrance, and Recollection. 

He differentiates them in this way:

Remembrance is the ability to recognize that we have had a thought or experience when reminded of it by others.  It does not necessarily come to mind spontaneously, but when “reminded” of it by another person,or event, we have the ability to remember that the event occurred.  We may not be able to remember the details or all the facts about the event or thought, but (generally with an outside prompt) we remember that it occurred.

Recollection is “the art of sending the mind to rummage the brain, as one might search a library for a book which he knows is there.”  (p. 118)  I remember that my parents took me to the School of Ministry at Milligan College in upper east Tennessee in the early 1960’s.  I remember certain things about the trip, but they are disjointed and have no particular meaning for me other than I can remember that they occurred. I don’t need prompting. I very definitely can pull up isolated memories of the event.

Reminiscence is a deeper experience than either of the previous two.  It is “a narration of the circumstances, sensations, and reflections of individual experience….  [It is] habitually dwelling on the incidents, characteristics, events, within one’s own knowledge, including the books that he has read and the conversations he has had.” (p. 118-9)  (Yes, brother Buckley lived before the days of politically correct gender neutered speech).

Buckley stresses the importance in reminiscence as necessary preparation for extemporaneous preaching. 

As we reminisce about what we have felt, seen, smelled, tasted or heard, it does several things. It helps us prepare to recount those experiences in a more impactful way rather than just telling the mere fact that an event happened. It helps the audience understand the power in the moment, the tension in what was experienced.  They can identify the emotion as being familiar to similar emotions they have felt in other experiences.

It also helps us synthesize experiences.  As I reminisce about one experience, the emotions, smells, etc. can remind me of another.  As I then compare and contrast those two situations/experiences it can lead to deeper understanding and insight. 

But specifically for extemporaneous preaching, it allows these memories to be held so that they can be raised on a moments notice when something in our preaching suddenly brings back the particular reminiscence, thus making our speaking more interesting, more insightful and more impactful. I guess I like to think of it as putting another building block in the pile that the Holy spirit can draw from as he leads me in the act of preaching.

Buckley says that reminiscences are image

“the primary source of originality of oratory, poetry and conversation. Their specific character accounts for the ever-varied and fresh manner in which real orators are able to treat the same topic, and in a series of meetings may entrance audiences by eloquence upon a subject which, to the common mind, would not seem likely to furnish the materials for an hour’s good speaking.”

Of course, this demands several things. It demands that we actually pay attention to our surroundings!  We must become more sensitive both to what is happening around us, and also to the smells, the sounds, the sights, the connected emotions, etc.  How would I describe this situation that just happened five years from now to help someone relive it?

Second, the use of an indexed journal is critical as well.  Not just a journal. But a journal that is indexed as to the types of experiences that are in it so that even though we have forgotten all of the details of an event, we can use the tools of “remembrance” or “recollection” to point us to recapturing the reminiscence.

There is a balance needed, however, stresses Buckley.  By using reminiscence in excess we can fail to focus on today.  We can be so captured by the lessons learned from our past experiences and so enamored by our re-telling of them that we fail to make the connection with how the principles learned “back then” apply or relate to our situation and problems today.  We have all seen this in what we might call “ramblings” of older men (or women) who tell story after story of “the way it used to be” or what they did “back then” without any relationship to today and what people in today’s culture, setting and situations can learn from the reminiscences of the past. 

I think that this chapter in Buckley was/is so pregnant with meaning for me currently because I am boxing up my books and office and saying goodbye to people.  A week from today will have preached my last sermon at this church.  So much of what I am experiencing raises so much emotion:

  • comparing and contrasting leaving this church with leaving the three other churches I have served.  Leaving a student ministry after four years of service where I served mostly as part-time education and youth minister.  Leaving my first solo ministry after three and a half years of service where I first really learned to preach and to give pastoral care and leadership.  Leaving my longest ministry (of 13 years) where we built a strong congregation, discipled leaders, built buildings and sent out scores of preachers and Christian workers. (I really don’t think that that is an exaggeration).  To now, being asked to leave a ministry (for the first time in my life) after nine years.  I won’t, in a public forum like a bog, air dirty laundry, but the contrasts are stark.  And yet there are also points of comparison.  Those are the things upon which I need to reminisce. 
  • trying to capture what lessons and experiences I have learned from this nine-year ministry.  While there has been much frustration in this ministry; much has gone right.  What situations do I need to reminiscence on a bit more to settle them in my mind or to get down in my journal so that they can be shared in appropriate times in the future? And there have been many precious people with whom I have had the privilege of serving and being served.  What lessons and experiences do I need to capture so that they are not lost.  That includes #3:
  • whether I move into another preaching ministry, or ministry of another kind, or teaching at the college level, or secular employment, or whatever, I don’t want to waste the experience I am currently having here.   I read an article (referred to me by a Timothy of this congregation who was at death’s door a year ago with a life threatening health condition) on not wasting your cancer. It is an article by John Piper and I may reflect on it at a later time.  But the point for here is that I very much don’t to waste the experience of leaving this church under stressful circumstances. That includes both leaving under duress, but also doing so with a fresh diagnosis of cancer.  It would be easy to cast stones & paint myself as the victim of a lay leadership gone amuck.  But that is not totally true or the complete picture.  I must not waste this current experience.  So what events do I need to reminisce about to capture them for future learning?

What about you?  Do you reminisce in a helpful way?  You don’t have to be a 52 year old veteran of 30 years of ministry to be able to reminisce.  From your first experience in ministry on…actually from your first experience in LIFE on….you have the fodder for helpful reminiscing. 

I think it is called the building of wisdom.  Let’s do it wisely.  Not only that we may preach better…but that we may LIVE better.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tell Us a Story...


A big part of much preaching is least Jesus thought so.  I would propose  that any preacher who neglects storytelling in his or her preaching does so to their own and their listeners loss. 

An article in the current Scientific American speaks to "The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn."  While not all of the article is useful for Christian preaching, some of it is.  The article is heavy on Darwinism...both biological as well as literary. 

The article, however, notes,

"We tell stories about other people and for other people.  Stories help us to keep tabs on what is happening in our communities.  The safe, imaginary world of a story may be a kind of training ground, where we can practice interacting with others and learn the customs and rules of society.  And stories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy."

But even defining storytelling is tricky.  The author (Jeremy Hsu) observes that scholars often identify story by explaining what it is not:

    • Exposition contrasts with narrative by being a simple, straightforward explanation, such as a list of facts or an encyclopedia entry.
    • Narrative is a series of causally linked events that unfold over time.
    • Narrative is the interaction of intentional agents---characters with minds--who possess various motivations.

However narrative is defined,people know it when they feel it. Whether fiction or nonfiction, a narrative engages its audience through psychological realism--recognizable emotions and believable interactions among characters....

But the best stories--those retold through generations and translated into other languages--do more than simply present a believable picture.  These takes captivate their audience, whose emotions can be inextricably tied to those of the story's characters.  Such immersion is a state psychologists call "narrative transport."

Stories help us relate truth to our lives by approaching us on an emotional level.  When we hear that a story in a sermon "rings true" we are more likely to accept the truth or biblical principle behind it.

I find it interesting that Hsu boils down to stories to three basic narrative patterns: 

  1. Romantic (the trials & travails of love)
  2. Heroic scenarios (power struggles)
  3. "Sacrificial"-"focuses on agrarian plenty versus famine as well as social redemption."

I have done a little bit of reading in Joseph Campbell and of course he has narrative traditions that are much more complex than these three.

However deeply we delve into these things (and they can be "Alice's hole") all preachers would do well to think through their use of stories and to craft them towards specific ends.  It is well worth thinking about. 

Monday, June 30, 2008

Storytelling as Preaching


This week I am at Wi-Ne-Ma Christian Camp on the Oregon coast.  I have been here many times and find it a wonderful place to see God  at work.  

Several years ago I was asked to be the evening bonfire speaker for this particular week of camp. I know how to preach to adults, but this "congregation" is made up of 75-100 9,10 & 11 year olds.  That is more of a challenge for me.  The first year I did it, I was stewing over why in the world I had said yes to my children's minister, and then my wife Loretta commented, "Why don't you just tell them a story?  You're good at telling stories." 

At first I thought, "I don't want to tell a story...I am expected to give content!  I need to give things that will give the kids things to think about, apply and remember from God's Word."  And then God prompted me...what do you think I was doing when I told parables?

And so I crafted my first story.  It was six installments long (Sun-Fri) and both had to reinforce the daily Bible scripture or lesson of the day, but also had to be good story form...i.e. it had to hold together, be interesting, have flow and leave the kids wanting more.  (Not bad suggestions for adult sermons either...)

So this is the fourth year I have done this.  Every year it is fabulously received and people clamor for me to have each of the stories published.  Although I have looked into that (and still would like to have that happened), I don't know that the stories translate well into book form.  They are first of all tied to the daily lessons.  They are also shorter than more books for tweeners (this age group).

But I have learned a big lesson.  Telling a story CAN be a very legitimate form of preaching. While some poo-poo it, I have seen the difference it can make in kids (and adults) lives. 

So last night I began...

"Brandon knew he wasn’t supposed to be in the old barn. It was located on the most remote part of his grandparent’s property and he had been told repeatedly not to venture inside of it...."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Reminding People of What They Already Know

Loretta and I were walking last Saturday after coming back from a long day filled with weddings and dinners with our boys and their friends (and attendant girlfriends/wives) back in town for the weddings. And as we walked, Loretta was talking about her women's Bible study. They are doing Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life the long way...they are taking a day a week and so 40-days becomes a 40-week study. (The subject of why I have never preached on Purpose Driven Life is saved for another time and place). They are on the section on spiritual gifts. And Loretta became excited as she described the women's reaction to the study. These are all women who have been believers many years. And yet she described how this teaching was fresh to them. (Not NEW, but FRESH—big distinction). Their leader, Janice is brilliant at doing that.

Because I am Listening to Fred Craddock’s tape series Preaching as Storytelling, something he had said immediately came to mind:

"A highly prized form of learning is to understand what you know. As Luke says to Theophilus: ‘that you may understand those things in which you have been instructed.’ (Luke 1:4 paraphrased)

“By the way, In preaching, that is very important. It is very important that people have the experience of what they already know.

“At least 90% of every sermon should be such that they can say "Amen". They do not want to be insulted and certainly not put-down. I do not enjoy being put down. That is what the world offers me every day...a hot cup of despair and a big put-down. I think we ought to participate in the ministry of encouragement to each other.” (Tape 1, Track 2)

That ability to teach what is note new, but in a fresh way is always challenging. I have had very little negative criticism of my preaching, but every once in a while someone states that it is shallow. (Although last summer I was criticized for making it too classroom-like & too deep—oh well….)

But one of the areas that I find most difficult is preaching to a congregation of established believers. There are two types of established believers…those who are well grounded in the Word and those who are not. The second group brings all sorts of preconceptions and prejudices and misunderstandings to the sermon time. And then you have non-believers or new believers. As has been said many times, you used to be able to presume that non-believers or new believers at least knew a number of Bible stories or references because our culture referred to them and felt they were worth passing on as part of our cultural heritage. That is no longer the case and so you have people who know literally NOTHING about the Bible who are in our sanctuaries.

To preach one sermon to all three (maybe more) groups is a challenge. I guess that my approach has always been to find the middle ground. It is admittedly simple for those who are established believers. But hopefully (and here is where I tie in the above quote) I am reflect on our common experiences as established believers. I am not telling them anything (or much) new, but I am helping them see a new dimension or facet of it. And yet for the non-Christian, new believer, and established believer who is not grounded in the Word, it is important to clearly lay some of those foundations.

Have you found good ways to resolve this quandary? Share some of your ideas with the rest of us.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Telling Personal Stories from the Pulpit

The pendulum has swung quite widely about telling stories about yourself or your family from the pulpit. When I began in ministry we were just transitioning out of that period when it was not proper for the minister to use himself as an illustration within the sermon. Many, many time I heard older ministers apologize for using a personal story.

The pendulum has swung to quite the opposite extreme. Much of that is healthy. People need to hear how what we are preaching impacts our lives. But there are the extremes: I have heard preachers tell stories about themselves from the pulpit that seemed quite inappropriate. In an age of confessional tell-all, some think any thing that happens in their life is fair game for relating from the pulpit. Some cast themselves in an embarrassingly bad light, others in an overly good light (braggadocio). Other times it not not that the story is extreme either way, but I would ask, why is he or she telling this story? To make us laugh? Does it relate to the sermon at all and if so, how?

In his tape series of lectures on Preaching as Storytelling, Fred Craddock gives what is, I believe, a healthy balance. He comes from that generation that did not tell stories on themselves, but as a preacher, he tells stories on himself and his family with great relish and effectiveness. Here is what he says:

"The question comes: should I tell things about myself from the pulpit? The standard or canon by which you measure whether or not a personal story is to be used is whether or not the personal story is not just yours, but is Every-persons. To what extent in that experience you were "Every-person." You were Adam & Eve. If you were Everyperson, so that the listeners can identify with it, then it can be told. If it was yours in a peculiar sense remote from the experiences of other people, it is for private conversation and not for the pulpit. Because there can be no identification; and the point of it all is for people to enter into the story." (Preaching as Storytelling, Lecture 4)

Have you seen personal stories of the preacher used in especially effective or ineffective ways? What made the difference? What guidelines do you use in including or not including personal stories?

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