Posted by: JennyRain | November 4, 2009

Scripture as Story

What if we could make that passage in Numbers or Deuteronomy more engaging?

A friend of mine from work, Sue, stopped by today on her way through the south wing. I love when she breezes by because whenever she does, she drops a valuable nugget of teaching in my direction.

Because I love to learn almost as much as I love to organize, improve, and maximize everything around me, on these rare but valuable occasions when I get to see her, I gobble up the idea she shares and then  spend the next several hours pondering how I can apply it.

This is my buddy Sue.

Today’s nugget was about how to look at scripture as a screenplay.

Now, we have read those begats and begots and begoats… or the dreadful introductions to many a book from the bible like this one from Numbers….

Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each the head of his family, is to help you. These are the names of the men who are to assist you: from Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur;
from Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai; from Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab;
from Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar; from Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon;
from the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud;
 from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur; from Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni;
from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai; from Asher, Pagiel son of Ocran;
from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel; from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan.”
These were the men appointed from the community, the leaders of their ancestral tribes. They were the heads of the clans of Israel.


Who cares about those folk! Lets get to the story already!

Yet, there must be something to this form for stories, for Shakespere himself has been known to use a similar geneological form. Consider the beginning of King Lear:

KENT  Is not this your son, my lord?

GLOUCESTER  His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge: I have so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am brazed to it.

KENT I cannot conceive you.

GLOUCESTER  Sir, this young fellow’s mother could: whereupon she grew round-wombed, and had, indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?

KENT  I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.

That’s where Sue comes in.

We were talking about writing from a Christian perspective and how to write and speak in a way about Biblical truths that keeps people interested. She was saying that there is something about the Bible that when people get to it, they often turn the stories into dry, boring, repetitious monologues rather than the robust stories that they were designed to be.

You know when that is happening… their whole body language changes. They approach the text trepidatiously rather than curiously – as if it is something foreign, rather than something familiar or relevant…

“What if we shared these Biblical stories like they were a screenplay?” Sue said.

I was hooked instantly.

Screenplays have texture, not just content. Screenplays have action, not just flat dialogue. Screenplays are animated, they do not stay in just one place.

I think about the story of Christ on the boat in the middle of the storm… what if we broke that story down and talked to the texture and robustness of that story…

  • I wonder how the disciples eyes must have burned as the raindrops sliced across their faces like starched sheets?
  • Did the wood below them begin to squish and curve as it became saturated?
  • How did their burlap coverings hang like weights on their arms, weakened by scooping pounds of water out of the side of the boat?

And that is only one element to the story.

There is so much more to this story than just the rain, yet how often do we, when communicating the robust stories of our faith, infuse this type of authenticity to them.

  • Do we just re-tell the story as written, or do we read the story over and over again and allow it to saturate us until we find its center of gravity?
  • Do we find the texture in the story – the setting, the characters, the context?
  • What about the characters – how do we express their quirkiness, their mannerisms, their features?

So Sue has me challenged on how I can communicate stories of my own faith more effectively.

How do you communicate stories of your own faith tradition in a way that makes them come alive for your listeners?



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