When I was a little girl I went to a story-telling church. They did other things as well, like waved hankies at the hanky song, and played timbrels with all those lovely ribbons, and had bibles with stick-man pictures in them that a smiley man handed out at the door, and collected back up again at the door afterwards. There was a cross, and a table thing with a red velvet tablecloth on it, and probably some preaching as well, but I didn’t have much time for that kind of grown-up stuff. I’d stuff some coloured pencils in my little shoulder bag, and a notebook, so I could draw pictures during the boring bits.
One thing that bemused me about my church though, more so than the timbrels and the fact that the grown-ups had pictures in their bibles, was the Storytelling Bit. I didn’t know if all churches had a Storytelling Bit, but mine did. People stood up in their chairs, and occasionally the preacher would invite them to come up the front and stand near the red velvet table, and they’d say all this random stuff. I always listened to the stories. I liked stories.
Sometimes though…sometimes I swear those people had no idea how to tell a story. They’d get up there and they’d say all about their drinking, and how hard it was to stop, and then their kids stopped calling, and yada yada, and I’d get to thinking “this person has no clue what’s interesting and what’s not”, and then they’d finish with a “but Jesus saved me”, and we’d all have to clap and stuff, even if the story wasn’t very good. A lot of them weren’t. “I couldn’t find my keys, and then I moved my hat and there they were.” Where’s the tension in that? Where’s the drama? “My cat died, and then my aunt gave me another one.” Yeah okay, so I cared about that one. “I used to beat my wife and then this one day I met Brother Peter here and…” Oh boy. Ho hum. Don’t you people know anything about storytelling? Still, everybody clapped like it was the best thing they’d ever heard, and patted the storytellers on the back when they sat down.
I must have been about eight years old when I decided I’d had enough; decided that I could tell a story every bit as well as these people, and maybe I was old enough to put MY hand up in church too. I knew I could do it. I could add life! Drama! Adventure! Mystery! Fantasy! Imagination! And so I did. I knew these stories had to be in the first person (like, you had to say “I did…” not “she did…”, and I had this neat little tie-in about that dude in the bible who had a dream of a ladder with angels going up to Heaven, so it was a good church story even. I imagined it all up as I went, about me waking up in the night and going outside, maybe sleepwalking, and seeing that gate out the side of our house with angels doing loop-the-loops, and how then I realised I wasn’t walking, and that maybe I could do what the angels were doing too, and…
I didn’t get a big clap like I’d expected at the end, when I sat down, which surprised me. I was so proud. I thought maybe they hadn’t liked the ending, or that I hadn’t resolved it as well as I could have. The minister said thank you in a kind of tight voice, and asked if anybody else had anything they wanted to share. I kind of wondered if I’d goofed it, or missed the mark somewhere. I didn’t ever tell stories in church after that, I just clapped politely when I needed to, and went back to my colouring pencils and my drawing.
Tomorrow is Good Friday. That makes today, in the traditional church, Maundy Thursday, and the beginning of the Easter period. Or something like that. I’m sure I’ll be corrected. I love Easter. It reminds me of all the stories, the real stories, of my own life, of the stories I really could raise my hand in church for and say “…but Jesus saved me!”. It’s a time to reflect on what we do it for, the whole chocolate egg and four-day-weekend thing. The whole of Easter, the whole point of the Jesus thing really, is found in storytelling. Jesus told stories, and then, after his death and resurrection, his disciples told stories. That’s why I’m sitting here today, because of those stories.
Happy Easter, my friends. If you find yourself in church this weekend, listen out for the storytellers.
P.S. My friend Patti has been blogging her way through the weeks leading up to Easter by unpacking some of the stuff in the Bible. Her insights are fascinating, and she knows a lot of the historical/cultural details that I’ve not known before. Her blogs are worth a read. In one of her recent comments said this: “The disciples and the lives they led after the resurrection are the the best evidence that it did indeed happen. Before the resurrection, they were hiding away. Afterward, they were fearless, and eleven of them faced martyrdom. Would you do that for a man who came, filled you will hope and promises, and then just died. No! The disciples were changed when they saw their risen Lord.” I’d not thought of it like that before. These are stories that, unlike my little eight-year-old offering, make a difference.