On vacation this summer we listened to several books on CD in the car. One of them was C.S. Lewis' classic: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. At first Natalie, who was 5 at the time, enjoyed it. But then it got scary and she wanted to turn it off. Then she was too absorbed in the story to turn it off--she wanted to know that Lucy would be ok. Then she almost cried when Aslan died and when he came back to life she said:
"He's just like Jesus." It was unsolicited. We did not say anything about Jesus the whole time we heard the story. She made the connection. I do not tell this story to extol the virtues of my child. I say it to extol the virtues of all children and even more so of storytelling.
Ancient people knew all about telling stories. That's why the Old Testament exists today: they passed down stories, verbatim, from one generation to the next. They understood the value of teaching stories to their kids. They spoke of a God who acts in the real world. He is a character in the stories. He is the one who brings plagues on Egypt and takes the people into the desert and He is a pillar of fire and He is a burning bush. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that the best way to speak of God is in fact in story. (And I think he is right.)
Aside: For now I will neglect the obvious benefits of the actual telling of the stories..."Grandpa, can you tell the part again where Jesus feeds 5 million people?" "You mean 5,000? Well, they were all on the side of a mountain see, and...."
In the postmodern West we also tell stories. Well, we watch stories. Our stories are as much about presentation as content. If God is involved He usually makes an appearance in the 'moral' of the story--not as a character but as some disembodied cosmic genie. The stories we like, from TV and movies most often, do not have as virtues truth and substance, but rather shock value and of course a clean resolution every 30 minutes.
This is only the beginning of a discussion on the importance of stories for our children. Walter Brueggemann puts it like this: "How can we find ways of linking the big picture of the Gospel story with the immediate experiences of the child's daily life?" Clearly young children can make connections between stories, as Natalie did with Aslan and Jesus. Can they make connections between their own story and Jesus? Can we give them the tools to do so?
To be continued...