Stories: featherweight or heavyweight?

Once I relegated stories to the featherweight division of theology.  More flash than substance, stories amused but were not intended for the heavier tasks of instruction, education or ontological reflection.  Certainly story and theology lived at opposite ends of the spectrum.  Story-telling and truth-telling could hold hands, but Truth demanded (and deserved) Fact.

Maybe this is why I never cultivated the habit of reading novels, always preferring non-fiction.  A few exceptions stand out like ‘Till We Have Faces’ by C.S. Lewis and a few novels penned by Madeline L’Engle.  But theological works, educational texts, historical books and their kin reside on my bookshelves; collections of sermons recline on my nightstand.

However, as a devout journal writer I chronicled my own history with religious fervor.  Stacks of composition books – now boxed and warehoused in my garage – hold the details of my own story.  Claude has often threatened to toss them.  It is a battle he has yet to win.  Intuitively I knew these stories mattered.  My own story is worth something, if only to me.

Somewhere in the last set of years I turned a corner and began to reconsider the power of story.  A pivotal moment was the realization that the Bible itself was embedded with weighty stories holding deep Truth.  God’s chosen medium, more often than not, is a good story.

There are the familiar tales of Adam and Eve in Eden, Moses contending with Pharaoh, Ruth walking with Naomi, Noah and his ark.  But the poetry of Isaiah lived in the context of the exilic story, each letter of Paul told part of a narrative about a community coming to faith or wrestling with the Christian life, even Revelation employed story with vivid images to imagine a future.  I watched Jesus tell stories…  I was schooled by these stories.

But maybe most revealing for me has been the power of my story – all those journals piled in the garage hinting at something equally true.  My personal narrative matters because it is connected to God’s own redemptive story.  The story He planted in The Garden comes to fruition in my life, day by day.  And those ink soaked pages tell of my own tales with all the twists and turns, trials and triumphs – and my work is to witness to the connections between His story then and His story now.

You see I cannot ignore the facts of my own testimony.  My lived experience of adoption, my daughter’s healing, my encounter with the most vulnerable of Burundi… all cry out for integration into God’s story.  My own life haunts me with questions, opportunities to reflect and see where my experiences fit into God’s redemptive arc.  My story is the material of theological reflection that I alone am responsible to address.

And so story enters the heavyweight division, as far as doing theology is concerned.  My own story becomes ground zero for theological reflection.  So as the Gospel story carries the truth of Jesus into the world, so my story carries His truth into my neighborhood.  Story, it seems, does some heavy lifting after all.

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6 thoughts on “Stories: featherweight or heavyweight?”

  1. d.l. mayfield
     ·  Reply

    so excited you have a regular place to write! so looking forward to hearing your stories . . .

    • kelleynikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Thanks, Danielle! Very new, but I am very keen to do the work and see what develops as I write ‘in public.’ Glad we are part of the same great conversation, part of God’s family participating in His dream-making!

  2. Daniela
     ·  Reply

    I would love to dive into those journals! I love that you recognize the importance of our own stories. What a great way to live our lives, writing history. xo

  3. Sean Whiting
     ·  Reply

    Oh, great start, Kelley. The site is clean and easy and welcoming. I know how much work goes into making it look this simple. Now it’s time for content – the best part! Will enjoy watching, following, digesting and supporting!

  4. Sarah Comley Caldwell
     ·  Reply

    I absolutely love this post! I too love most anything penned by Madeleine L’engle…and I too love journaling and have done so for almost 20 years of my life… Thank you so much for telling this story! Found your blog through the incredible Sarah Bessey, and I can’t wait to read more!! Blessings to you!

    • kelleynikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Sarah, thanks for reading. Madeleine L’Engle was a hero of mine, and her faithful journal writing habit was something I could embrace in my own life – a secret super power! And Sarah Bessey is incredible and then some! Look forward sharing the journey together…

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All writing on this site represents my own journey, my own wrestling, my own epiphanies. While I work with Communities of Hope, ideas shared here do not necessarily represent this organization.