There are a handful of books I’ve read and re-read over the years. For reasons I won’t go into now, starting in November I typically read all seven books of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the series. Ten times? Twenty times? One hundred times? I’m not sure. Ten is too few and 100 is probably too many.
Suffice it to say; I know the stories of Narnia well. Obviously, when you’ve read a story that many times you become very familiar with it. I could discuss Aslan with a casual reader of the Chronicles. It wouldn’t take much exposition for us to understand each other. However, if I told you that the conversation between Aslan and Emeth is one of my favorite parts of the Chronicles then you might require some further explanation. Since Emeth only appears in about eight pages of the roughly 800 pages that make up the entire series, you would need to know the series well to understand what I was talking about. So, I could easily have a conversation with those who are familiar with the Chronicles about why I like that part so well. Those who are less familiar with the stories, not so much.
Stories are powerful. Part of what makes the Chronicles so powerful for me is my familiarity with them. Also, I’ve lived with them and seen them from different points of view at different times in my life. What began for me as a series of children’s books, now encompasses and reflects much of my theological outlook on the world. I really don’t know how many of my theological interpretations were intended by C.S. Lewis versus how many of them are me laying my own beliefs upon the narrative. Suffice it to say that I draw faith, understanding and clarity from this narrative.
Storytelling is nothing new to the church. In fact, it is the foundation the church was built upon.
It’s ironic that the church used to own storytelling but now Madison Avenue does. Branding, communications, advertising and marketing are all about storytelling. I’ve often joked that John the Baptist was the world’s first brand manager. The marketing world understands that there are only two ways to market products. One is on price points and the other is on telling a compelling story. The fact of the matter is if you market on price points, then that is your story. You don’t believe me? Then just watch a Walmart commercial and you’ll see them tell their story, which is that they are uniquely positioned to save you money. It’s the only story Walmart tells and it has worked remarkably well for them.
The church seems to be in a downward spiral but why wouldn’t it be? We have stopped telling our stories to our neighborhoods, our communities and the world. What is there to compel people to engage with us? What’s worse is that they think they already know our story. The problem is that it is not our story. It’s a story that other people are telling on our behalf. They are telling a story of hypocrisy, judgment, ignorance and hatred. The only way to overcome those false stories is to tell our true story of redemption, hope and good news.
David Dreisbach serves as Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.