How We Tell Our Story

A recent issue of Commonweal magazine contained a column by John Garvey that is worth paying some attention to.

In a piece titled Telling the Christian Story: Make it Humble & Make it Persuasive, Garvey reminds us that we no longer live in world where there is a single shared overarching culture (“no prevailing mythos, no Christendom or Byzantium or Holy Roman Empire”) and that our sense of identity is much more a matter of individual choice than it once was. As he observes, “people experience a sense of choice about belief, whether the belief has to do with faith, politics, ethics, or aesthetics.”

Many long for a return of the world the way it used to be. However, the reality in which we live has important ramifications, that I think are well summed up in the subtitle of his piece. Garvey elaborates:

the church of the future must understand that the status quo ante can’t be restored….We are on new ground, with no recourse to any common surrounding story; nor, given the scandal in all our churches, to any institutional moral authority. The argument now must be humble and persuasive, and the message must be the basic story itself. Does the church remember what that is? Can it tell the story as a matter of life and death, and make it mean something to people who have no reason to believe that bishops or priests have anything to offer?

Sadly, I fear there are some who will scoff at Garvey’s suggestion, who will deride the suggestion that any humility or persuasion is called for, expecting that people ought to simply accept what the church says because it says it.

But there is a hungry world out there, and a lot of people longing to find something that offers meaning. I always have believed Christianity has something real to offer to the world and its people. I think Garvey’s words are important if we want to “get people to pay attention to what Christianity can mean in particular lives.”


2 thoughts on “How We Tell Our Story

  1. Often I find,in the telling,personal experience is essential. The innumerable little miracles and big,which have occurred to me,effectively grace a story. And so much of believing is intertwined with faith. Once on an unexpected mechanical delay out of Minneapolis,I decided to read my Bible on the jumpseat. A young woman from England sitting right in front of my jumpseat asked me,”Do you believe everything in there?” This question struck thunder in my heart. I do not consider myself to be a logically reasoning human,which is a strength and a curse. I stumbled a bit,because I forgot one salient fact: that it is God Himself who changes hearts and minds and not just ourselves. I was not alone in that moment.I wish I had remembered to offer a small prayer for help and guidance. I think I said something about C.S. Lewis,because I so respect and love the way he reasons. The young Englishwoman said to me,”Can’t you just tell me yourself?” I think I could do it now and I hope she met someone who could convey The Way more cogently or C.S. himself. I wonder though,if I was placed there for her,or for the mountain of a woman sitting closeby who leapt up to tell the purser I was trying to convert the entire cabin? She was obviously affected by whatever I said. Maybe something took hold there. I’ll never know.But I agree,the simple telling of it with gentleness,that would respect the dignity of the other person,is key. That,and remembering whose story it is.

  2. Amen to Renee. I am active with the Cursillo movement. When we give a weekend there are outlines to follow for talks, there are points to be made. And, there are spots for “personal witness” in most of the talks. What do you think actually gets the attention of the participants? What touches them? What do they remember? The personal witness, almost always. They don’t remember the talk or its topic, but they connect with and respond to the speaker’s own story/stories of how God as touched them, worked within them, or used them to touch another person.

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