If you were a great explorer, what would you explore?
If you could make one character from any work of fiction come to life, what character would you select?
If you could trade places with anyone for one week, who would you want to trade with and why?
The Talmud tells of a Rabbi who wished to teach his students to be soft of speech;
He invited them to a meal, and served to each, both a soft tongue, well-prepared, and a half-raw tough tongue. They selected the soft and left the tough. “Let this be a lesson to you,” said Rabbi. “The soft tongue is agreeable and the tough disagreeable to all of you. May your tongues be tender towards each other.” (Wayyikra Rabbah, 33)
Did this rabbi’s object lesson really illustrate the lesson he was seeking to teach? Even a cursory examination reveals that the rabbi is using the concept of “soft tongue” in two different ways. The rabbi is guilty of equivocation (the fallacy of four terms) and the conclusion to which he leads them does not logically follow from his argument/illustration.
Does that mean that the rabbi’s pageant was of no benefit, or worse, that it was manipulative or misleading?
It is clear that the rabbi was not depending upon the incident to convince his students of the value of soft speech. He was not seeking to persuade them, he was attempting to create a memorable incident for the purpose of reinforcing truths to which his students were already committed. The value of the skit was in the tacit knowledge being passed from instructor to student in a kind of mnemonic device. It is the artificial and contrived nature of the charade that serves in drawing out the “real” lesson and making it memorable.
Good pedagogy always includes much more than straightforward communication of information. It is a combination of commitment, creativity, memory, passion, humor, … MAGIC. Mix them together in an authentic relationship and you have learning — you have magic. I have no intention of serving tongue to my students any time soon, but I aspire to create the kind of memorable experience served up by this rabbi.
- Effective Communication
- What the Church Can Learn From George Bush About Effective Communication
- Why Good Teachers Are Confessional
I was recently asked to respond to the following note . . .
Hi, I was wondering if [X] had any book recommendations for me on the subject of storytelling and incorporating stories into writing. What I’m looking for is very similar to what pastors would read and study as they prepare for their sermons. . .and exactly what [X] does. . .telling a story at the beginning of sermons and then using that story to illustrate a biblical principle applied to life. I do quite a bit of writing and would like to hone that skill and thought of [X]. Any recommendations?
And here is my response . . .
I am a poor second to [X], but hope that my suggestions may be of assistance to you.
I love the way you are thinking about this and have several recommendations.
1. Christian Essayists — You are probably not surprised to know that I think the best resources for developing this portion of our art is to read the works of some of those who are true masters at weaving important truth and narrative. It is interesting to note that some of the best Christian essayists have been writers that are best known not for their essays but for their fiction; C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Dorothy Sayers, etc. L’Engle has actually written a book on this very topic, The Rock That Is Higher: Story as Truth
However, I must warn you to beware of some of their theology (L’Engle was a universalist among other things).
2. Journal / Record Observations – Like you, I am amazed by the manner in which [X] weaves stories into his sermons. Many people are great storytellers, but [X] has the ability to use illustrations that truly illustrate. If you go back through some of his sermons and analyze his illustrations you will soon discover that many of them include him as a participant. In order to effectively employ this he first has to engage life in such a way that he really “Experiences Life”. He seems to have developed the ability to do as Brother Lawrence wrote about in his book The Practice of the Presence of God. This is both a spiritual discipline and an artistic one. I firmly believe that one of the best ways to develop this disciple is to faithfully journal; not as a sequence of events (who, what, when, where, how), but as a record of the sensory experience (hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, seeing) and emotional description. When we are able to adequately describe our experience, and only when we are able to do so, then we are capable of inviting in other vicarious participants. There are lots of books out there on journaling, most of which are garbage. I can’t think of any that I would recommend off-hand. But I do strongly recommend the practice.
3. Learning From the Master – I love the book Teaching as Jesus Taught, by Roy Zuck. No one, not even our [X], ever came close to the storyweaving ability of Jesus. In this book Zuck explores Jesus’ teaching in all its fullness.
4. What You Really Asked For – There are many books out there on developing homiletic skills. In an interesting twist of irony, most of them are pretty boring. Four that might interest you include
a. Preaching and Teaching with Imagination: The Quest for Biblical Ministry, by Warren Wiersbe
b. Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today, by John Stott
c. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, by Haddon Robinson
d. Supremacy of God in Preaching, The, by John Piper
Recently there has been a flurry of books on narrative preaching. Some of these might be useful to you, but I haven’t been overly impressed with any of them.
5. Cultural Geography – Although we wouldn’t ordinarily think of cultural geography when addressing the topic of creative religious writing, there is some very interesting material being published in the field of “landscape interpretation.” I wouldn’t run out and buy a bunch of these books if I were you, but you might check out a few titles using interlibrary loan. For starters you might check out Mapping the Invisible Landscape: Folklore, Writing, and the Sense of Place by Kent Ryden (isbn. 0877454140) and maybe one by a father of this discipline such as Yi-Fu Tuan like Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (isbn. 0816638772) or perhaps one from my old teacher Richard Francaviglia like Believing In Place: A Spiritual Geography Of The Great Basin.
6. Youth Specialties Recommendations – The following link will connect you to books that were recently recommended at a Youth Specialties conference for youth ministers to use in developing storytelling. I have not read these books myself, so I cannot comment on their usefulness, but I thought you might like to see the list : http://www.buildingatheologicallibrary.com/storying-resources/ .
Well, [Y], I hope this helps. And, I commend you for seeking to become a more able communicator of truth. May God help us all to do so.
Blessings and peace,
What advice would you have given had you been asked to respond to this request for information?
I have never met Ralph Wood, but I would like to. He is Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University. Theology and Literature — having taught both of them myself I resonate a great deal with the essays, collections, and resources on his website.
I think that he and I would probably have some significant differences in theology, but I think that would make having tea with him just that much more interesting.
I plan on interacting with some of his ideas here on my blog in the near future, but for now I leave you with a point drawn from a presentation he made at Baylor University on March 27, 2003 at the Some Marks of Excellence in Teaching Leadership Development Seminar.
Why good teachers are gladly and deliberately confessional
a. Because all great texts and works and ideas are out to win us over, to convert us
b. Because of the Christian conviction that there is no full understanding without first believing: Credo ut intelligam: “I believe in order to understand” (St. Augustine, via Isaiah 7:9 Septuagint). Since all truth is rooted in the triune God, it is encountered only as God himself is encountered: in trust and obedience and reverence.