Getting the Story Right

When we were children, my sister and I would take on the characters of the stories my mother read to us before bed. Some were manifest internally—we wondered how a 9-year-old Jewish girl in 1938 Poland would feel if she were to be delivering newspapers on a freezing Alberta evening? Others required a new accent and vocabulary, like the characters in Lois Lenski's Shoo-Fly Girl; we used words like "Ma" for weeks after the book's conclusion, despite our real mother's adamant protest.

We become the stories we are told. Which means they play a critical role in determining who we become as spiritual individuals and as political beings. "Our ‘freedom,'" theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes, "is dependent on our being initiated into a truthful narrative, as in fact it is the resource from which we derive the power to ‘have character' at all."

For people rooted in the Christian tradition, the biblical stories serve as our founding narrative. As Hauerwas notes, "they and they alone satisfy what Reynolds Price has called our craving for a perfect story which we feel to be true."

Yet what we consider true—that is, our sense of the divine—is always mediated and is derived in a certain context. Even Moses, who saw God's back and withstood his voice, did not stare God squarely in the eye. None of us hears in a vacuum. Especially for those of us who have been immersed in biblical stories, each time we read one we revisit every telling we've heard, every corresponding scripture song our Sunday school teachers taught us the motions to.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2001
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