Image is by Margaret Sartor, copyrighted by Margaret Sartor, and from Duke University Libraries.
Margaret Sartor was on The God Complex yesterday, with a fascinating discussion (click “Carol and Bruce talk with Margaret” on the Blog Talk Radio widget to the right to hear the interview). She’s a documentary photographer, as well as an author, and I wondered if putting together this book of journal entries was something like forming a documentary.
She said that it was. In fact, she said that we are created to form narrative out of chaos, making a subtle nod to Genesis.
Her statement reminded me that the role of the narrative seems to be changing at this moment. Daniel Pink says that’s because facts are now easy and cheap. We no longer need researchers to hold them and dig them up. Facts are now on the Internet, and Google does the digging for us. So, there is a shift in culture: The story is now more valuable.
What do stories have that facts do not?
According to Pink, we remember stories. We’re just wired that way. Stories wrap the facts into a context, and then deliver them with emotional impact. According to Sartor, they help form narrative out of chaos.
How does this help us in our congregations?
(1) Do we know our church’s story? Pink explains that certain businesses are forming in order to harvest the stories from their employees and customers. Then, they take the chaos of those narratives to provide a mission statement. Testimony and mission are what we are all about in our congregations. But, I wonder, have we identified the narrative of our churches? Do we use it to reach out to our broader community and tell them who we are? And who God is? Can we imagine a process of harvesting our own stories?
(2) Do we preach our stories? We are taught in our seminary courses to gather all of those facts. But do we learn how to present them in a context, with emotional impact?
I know in my preaching courses, emotional impact was looked down upon. It was seen as manipulative. In my internship, I was criticized because my sermon made people cry. There was an actual complaint from a member of the congregation.
But shouldn’t that be our jobs? To stir people, emotionally and intellectually? Isn’t that what a good story is all about? Why should we expect to cry at Hollywood movies, and then be horrified if the Word of God moves us? I know that many have felt religiously manipulated in church before, but have we moved too reactively into the heady realm?
Testimony, evangelism, preaching… what am I leaving out? How have you noticed this creative power working through the narratives in your congregation? Tell us the story….