I work at a place where I help people tell stories with excellence. Being a writing consultant means being a safe place where writers can divulge their writing insecurities in confidence and leave with new confidence. One of my supervisors is currently writing his dissertation. I’m not exactly sure what the topic is, but, he wanted to interview me about my journey with writing. I gladly agreed to an hour conversation about such things (and an Amazon gift card). We talked about my journey, what writing is to me, and what I had learned from college about writing. I was honest. I said that I felt like I hadn’t learned much. In an education institution that tries to quantify such things like writing skills, intelligence, and depression, it’s hard to learn how things really are.
Over 21 years, the best writing advice I’ve gathered has been twofold: good writers are good readers and the best way to learn to write is to learn to live. It’s proven true in my own life: the more omnivorously I read, the more prolific my writing. The more bravery I wield to ask the hard questions and to gather new experiences, the more my wonder of the world grows and the more generous the world is in handing me content.
So, in my interview, when my supervisor asked me what it is to be a writer, I said, “I think to be a writer, it really has nothing to do with skill at all. I think it has everything to do with bravery.” Some people consider themselves writers, some do not. And I think what sets these two groups of people apart is simply a bravery and a need to share their experience--and the truth they find within it--with the world. I am not saying that only writers are the brave ones. I’m only saying that the brave are the writers.
I think about all of this in regards to ministry. If I am called to storytell for The Kingdom, I need to be reading and being brave about the right things. I notice that when I write to teach, teach is all I do. Everyone sounds the same when they teach. It’s because when our goal is to share facts and principles, it stops there. I think those that we consider good teachers do things differently: to be a good teacher is to share good stories. Stories do something that lectures could never do.
Stories don’t just transfer knowledge and information from one place to another. Stories fabricate relationship, wonder, and childlikeness. If we come to someone to learn something from them, we also come with a specific expectation of what we hope to learn. But, if we come to listen to a story, we come filterless and our only hope and expectation is to be swept up in the tale. What we learn then playfully surprises us and finds a much more snug and stable place within our lives. We learn something that we feel we can come back to, talk with, and grow with. Stories have their own breath that changes pace when we get to the good parts; and we have to catch up and slow down as it does.
The childlikeness of stories is that they don’t just teach us just one thing. They introduce us to new lives that expand and make more beautiful our own lives. I don’t really know how to share a life other than telling stories that encapsulate the kind of person that lived the life and the kinds of adventures he embarked on. When our goal is to share a life, to create meaningful relational connection, there is no end to what is taught. The best way I’ve found to do this, or rather, the way I think God prefers, is this storytelling.
I think this because Jesus did this. I don’t think He spoke in parables to only hide truth from deaf ears, I think He knew that the childlike would be the ones to receive the stories. “To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they wilI have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them” (Matthew 13:12). I think this is one reason He wants us all to become like children to enter into Heaven. Children come to stories ready to listen and ready to hear. And story is how He likes to talks to us. He wants the ones who will listen to His voice and to whom His stories will have meaning. He wants to know that we think what He has to say is important. But those who cannot listen to his stories will be left in the dust in of their own understanding.
If we cannot listen to stories, if we cannot tell stories filled with truth that cut to the heart, perhaps we’ve lost an essential tool in getting to know our Father.
I’m reading Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle. She has a beautiful paragraph which describes the dangers of trading our stories for the chance to quantify experience and underhandedly gain control:
“One of the many sad results of the Industrial Revolution was that we came to depend more than ever on the intellect and to ignore the intuition with its symbolic thinking. The creator, and the mystic, have tended more towards Platonism than Aristotelianism, and tend to be willing to accept Plato’s ‘divine madness,’ with its four aspects of prophecy, healing, artistic creativity, and love. These divine madnesses have been nearly lost in this century, and we we’ve lived almost entirely in the pragmatic, Cartesian world. I wonder if Descartes knew what he was doing when he wrote his famous I think therefore I am, and subsequently, if not consequently, we began even more than before to equate ourselves with our conscious minds. Cogito, ergo sum nudges us on to depend solely on intellectual control, and if we insist on intellectual control we have to let go our archaic understanding and our high creativity, because keeping them means going along with all kinds of things we can’t control.”
I’ve also recently begun reading A.W. Tozer’s book The Pursuit of God. The Foreward and the Preface are where others tell what they discovered about Tozer’s own pursuit of God. What these authors found important to share was just how much time Tozer spent on his face in worship of God. Tozer influenced thousands in the 1900s with good old fashioned word of mouth, the radio, and the newspaper. Tozer didn’t have social media to build his brand or the tactical marketing strategy to make God famous; he had revelation of God’s heart that was unmistakeable and captivating. He carried with him stories from God’s heart that he took the time to explore and exercised the humility to receive.
I don’t have specific prophesies over my life or dreams about the hugeness of the crowds I’ll minister to. But, I do have a passion to write stories about truth that’s relevant just because it is. The Bible, The Illiad and the Odyssey, Beowulf, Luther, Mozart, Picasso, and Achilles have survived because these storytellers and tales made their homes in our hopes, longings, and childlike fantasies. Is not human excitement the best messenger?
Go into all the nations and tell of the joy you have found.
Tozer’s story is a comfort to me. I’m sure Tozer worked every opportunity he was given to preach and to write and to teach. But I’m equally sure he spent much more of his time seeking God rather than strategizing how to build his platform. I’m sure he spent much more of his time understanding how the truths and beauty of God are meant to nestle themselves into his human soul. I’m sure he spent much of his time letting his excitement, wonder, and listening ear build to an uncontainable state. What we are left with then, is a collection of a learned child’s poetry that simply and faithfully leads us to where the joy is found.
Truth is a rally point. Beauty captures loyalty. Love is undeniably the largest banner we can raise. These are the things that knit people together. These are the stories that people flock to. These are the things that God has given us to trumpet and march with. If we are to lead lives that leave a mark, stories that bugel these things are what we must share and immerse ourselves in. No one really wants to know how to live their life well. What we really want to know is who we can live our best lives with. Let’s tell them the story of Jesus.
What I've learned about what it means to be transformed into the image of Christ, be reconciled to Him, myself, & others, and how to be His disciple.