Stories have always been important for humans, but they seem to be taking a new form and vitality in our culture. With our reaction to the information age and our longing for vibrant community, there is a revival of the narrative in our everyday lives.
I began to understand the importance of stories when I stood before the intergenerational group of men and women, leading a conference for an Episcopal Church diocese. I asked people in the crowd, “What formed your generation? What sort of music, technological developments, political events, religious movements and social trends helped to shape who you are today?”
It’s always a fascinating exercise, and that day was no exception. A journalist and church leader in her early twenties raised her hand, “Ever since I can remember, we’ve had the Internet. So, I’ve had every fact available—even news from around the world—at my fingertips.”
“Yes!” I yelled, with excitement. “Amazing things have developed.” I began to prattle on enthusiastically, until I noticed the concern on her face.
“No,” she stopped me. “You don’t understand. Every fact has been available,” she repeated, and this time I saw her furrowed brow. “It’s kind of scary.”
Her comment hides in the back of my mind, and every once in a while I invite it to the forefront so that I can roll it over, imagining the implications of growing up with news and data so readily available. How does this proliferation of information impact the ways in which we communicate? How does it affect our congregations and religious movements?
Looking across popular culture in a new generation, it seems that this crucial shift of information accessibility has made our stories more important. The business writer, Daniel Pink, makes the case in A Whole New Mind that with this inundation of data, facts have become cheap, and stories have more impact. We no longer vault our statistical information in ivory towers, waiting for some professor’s steadfast and dedicated assistant to set them free for the rest of us to consume in a scholarly journal. Now, research data can be readily procured, with a few keystrokes. “When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible,” Pink writes, “each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.”
I wonder if we’re learning about this important cultural shift in our preaching classes. In a time when much of our scriptural interpretation includes a long process of gathering facts and information, are we learning ways in which we can present them with emotional impact? Should that be a concern in our preaching? Or is too much emotionalism manipulative in the pulpit?
photo is by Bibimorvarid