Issue 1- April 2018 “What’s Your Story?”
Welcome to the first issue of my monthly newsletter. Thank you for joining me on this adventure of exploring leadership, preaching, coaching, and other topics that help us to bring our best to our work. If you know of any friends or colleagues who might be interested in receiving the newsletter as well, please don’t hesitate to forward them this email. Thank you for your support! -Meg Hess
“The world is a story we tell ourselves about the world.” Vikram Chandra
What’s Your Story?
Stories have the power to create worlds, give meaning to life, inspire, form character, provide wisdom, and suggest direction. Stories can also limit, shame, erode confidence, and diminish us. Each story has the potential to go in either direction: creation or destruction. The difference lies in how the story is told and interpreted.
What are the stories that you tell yourself? Asking ourselves this question on a regular basis can heighten awareness of how our narratives either help or hinder us. When a story holds us back, we can choose an alternative narrative.
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Poets Who Light Up the World
Ansel Elkins is a young poet with a fresh perspective. At the moment, Ms. Elkins is Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at UNC-Greensboro. Her collection of poems, Blue Yodel, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize in 2014. Her poem Autobiography of Eve makes my heart race every time I read it. The poem is the perfect example of an archetypal story that is re-framed in a way that liberates the narrative from old assumptions. Further proof that even old, old tales can be revised. If Eve can rewrite her story, so can we.
Autobiography of Eve
By Ansel Elkins
Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.
Copyright © 2015 by Ansel Elkins. Used with kind permission of the author.
The use of narrative in preaching is nothing new. Jesus used parables to challenge existing norms, re-frame understandings of God, and to connect deeply with his listeners. Narrative preaching takes many forms, from telling stories in a sermon to presenting the sermon as a story or as a first-person perspective from a Biblical character. Story telling engages the listener on multiple levels at once: intellectual, physical, emotional, and cultural. When using story in preaching, you invite people to bring their own associations, images, and examples. This transforms the story telling space into a multi-cultural and inclusive interactive experience.
A good sermon can help the listener identify alternative, life-giving narratives to their old, limiting stories. Preachers show us how to connect our stories with The Story.
In Christopher Vogler’s classic work on story, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, he notes that while working as a story consultant in the movie industry he learned “…to listen to my body as a judge of a story’s effectiveness.” (From Introduction to the Third Edition, page x) He writes:
“An effective story grabs your gut, tightens your throat, makes your heart race and your lungs pump, brings tears to your eyes or an explosion of laughter to your lips. If I wasn’t getting some kind of physiological reaction from a story, I knew it was only affecting me on an intellectual level and therefore it would probably leave audiences cold.” (p. x)
Put the stories you want to use in your sermons through the body test. Do you have a visceral reaction to the story? Where in your body does the story impact you? How is your body interpreting the story? You might even try the story out on a few people beforehand. Ask them if they experience the story with their body, not just with their mind. If the story doesn’t pass the “body test,” how might your body help to bring the story to life? What cues does the body give you to make the story more vibrant? Try finding the movement in the story and act it out through exaggerated gestures. Notice what arises. How might inviting the body into your sermon preparation impact the direction of your sermon? Let me know what you learn from this experiment.
Resources for the Preacher
• Storyteller Donald Davis tells How the Story Transforms the Teller in his TEDx talk. Can you tell he is also a preacher?
• The Network of Biblical Storytellers, International is a Treasure Trove of story resources for the preacher.
• For further reading check out the work of Fred Craddock, Tex Sample, and Eugene Lowry on narrative preaching.
Meg Hess is a Life Coach and Clergy Leadership Coach. Want to live more fully into your creative goals? Preach and lead more effectively and with more joy? Contact Meg to schedule a Coaching session here.
How will you make gladness in your life today?