Grandkids love to hear their grandparents tell stories, especially stories from when their moms and dads were young. Among the currently most popular stories for our grandkids is the long-ago story of finding a scorpion in their mommy’s sleeping bag. I come across more heroic than I may deserve, but I did, in fact, wallop the poor arachnid with my shoe and flush the carcass down the toilet. Papa saved the day!
Good stories well told nurture the imagination, widen horizons, and, especially family stories, tell us who we are. Stories are important and telling them is one of a grandparent’s most important jobs.
Stories tell us who we are. A nation’s story tells its people what it means to be a citizen of that nation. One of the marks of the present age is the scarcity of common stories and disagreement as to what the few remaining stories are meant to teach us. Are our nation’s founder heroes or are they scoundrels? Are the better angels of our nature really villains in disguise?
A couple of days ago, Becky came across a wonderful article, a story, in the Christian Science Monitor. “What does it mean to be American? How 9/11 changed one Queens family” tells the story of September 11, 2001, through the eyes of a four-generation family in New York, beginning with the 102-year-old World War II veteran father. It is a well-told story and succeeds well in answering its own question. It is a story worth reading.
Maybe not so much worth reading or hearing is the story that seems to have held the nation’s short attention span this week; the story of Gabby and Brian, the young couple who set off on a cross-country road trip. They intended to chronicle their expedition with frequent posts on social media and by means of YouTube uploads. Apparently, they garnered a variety of vicarious vacationers who followed their every step. But now their once-vacuous story is the story of a murder and a disappearance, young love gone tragically wrong, and much speculation about what “really happened.”
To be sure, the story is heart-breaking for the families of the couple and for those who may be in a small circle of friends, and I mean no disrespect to them in their grief and confusion.
But what does the story of this sad story tell us about who we are? Nothing good, I think. Why are we so taken by it? Maybe this sorry and seedy little story distracts us from wondering what we are to do with the stories coming from our southern border. Our fascination with the tragedy of young love gone wrong may keep us from deciding what it means to love the stranger suddenly in our midst. Speculating about what “really happened” allows us to put off any serious thought about the very real consequences of living in a time of cultural decay.
The stories we tell and the stories we hear matter. The Psalmists instruct the sons and daughters of Abraham to tell their children stories of deliverance and blessing, and of disobedience and punishment (Psalm 78, for instance). The followers of Jesus are to tell the stories of Jesus and his love, of a cross and an empty tomb. They are to tell again the stories Jesus told, stories of lost sons welcomed home and kind strangers on dangerous roads.
It’s hard to avoid the story of Gabby and Brian. It will take intent and discipline to find the stories of Moses and Pharoah, Ruth and Boaz, David and Goliath, the cross and an empty tomb, a lost son or a kind stranger. Those are the stories we must tell and hear. Along with the story of the day Papa smashed the scorpion in Mommy’s sleeping bag.