You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. ― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus
Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.― William Shakespeare, The Tempest
It was the time of the preacher, when the story began.—Willie Nelson, The Time of The Preacher
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.—The Gospel According to John, 1:1
Once upon a time we told stories to each other. They were long, carved, brightly painted things, and they emerged from cool dark lakes, frothy-stormed seas, or lily-pad covered ponds or foggy moors, dotted with bogs of peat. We heard them from others, who had heard them from others, who knew the people who knew the people they happened to. The stories told us how the world is, or how it once was, or the way it could be. The stories lasted a long time, because they told the truth.
Now we only tell each other things that happened five minutes ago, in sparse little epigrams of 140 characters. We’ve invented small words to fit, words that stand in for words, abbreviations of the universe. We LOL, we ROFL, we SMH or FMH, we OMG or we OMFG. We hashtag, we block, we unfollow. None of it actually matters, since these little stories are not true, not like the old stories that we told to each other in the once upon a time.
I’m a preacher. Go ahead and laugh. It’s kind of like saying, “I’m a traveling medicine man, or a whirling dervish or a Swedish dragon-fighter.” Those are jobs nobody has anymore, but it’s not because people don’t need the newest patent medicine, or don’t want to dance like a dust-devil on the desert floor, or even because all the dragons are dead. It’s just that no one believes the stories anymore.
Years ago, I preached a sermon, based on the second Hebrew creation story, in Genesis, chapter 2. In that story, God creates a mud-creature, blows into its nose, and it comes to life, and afterwards, gives names to all the animals. It’s a really cool story, with a tragic, but hopeful ending, and I like it. (Of course, I like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. too, the 60’s TV version, not the terrible cinematic remake.)
Afterwards, because it is the tradition, I stood at the doors of the church and people shook my hand and said things that, according to the tradition, they were supposed to say, like, “Great sermon,” or “Man, that really moved me.” I smiled and thanked them, because that, too is part of the tradition.
Towards the end of the greeting line, there was a man who usually did not like what I said from the pulpit. He thought I was dangerous; certainly a heretic and very probably, an atheist. I had given him lots of evidence to support his thoughts about me.
He did not take my hand to shake it. He just looked at me: “Interesting sermon you preached today. Do you believe that actually happened?”
“I don’t really understand what you mean. It happened in the story,” I told him. “That’s all I know.”
He snorted, “That’s what I thought.”
I never did figure out what he meant. I’m fairly sure he never figured out what I meant either.