Tag Archives: biblical storytelling

Genesis 1 and structure

In a commentary that I read recently — but sadly that I cannot find again to give proper credit — the structure of Genesis 1 was pointed out and this has tremendously helped me get it “by heart”. And it is surprisingly simple —

God creates light

God deals with water

God deals with water some more

God finishes organizing light

God adds creatures to water (creating sea monsters)

God adds creatures to earth — and creates humankind

So for purposes of storytelling — when you are standing there smiling because all the words have vanished from your brain: Light, water, water, light, water creatures, earth creatures.

Sometimes the simple things are the best things.




Genesis 1:1-31 and time

I am back home from the Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers and I am fired up about Genesis 1. A surprising amount of the Festival went over Genesis 1 this year. I learned some great stuff and heard and saw the very best storytellers do this passage. So I have a bit of a start.

Yet, of course, as always, my first reaction is “Oh I couldn’t possibly learn that.” And my second reaction is “But when would I need it? I don’t need to learn that one.” But after all these years, I need to tackle something from the Hebrew scriptures. And I need a challenge. And I need my brain to have something to chew on so that I will worry less about other stuff. But already my brain is going, “but this is a busy time, this isn’t the time….”

So I am boldly pushing pass all that. And I just have this feeling that I will need it.  Sometimes I ignore or squash the inner negative voice. Sometimes I treat it tenderly — “it is okay,” I say. “There will still be other stuff as well. And you have already forgotten, this is fun.”

One of the things that struck me, hearing it at the FG, was the rhythm of time in this section. Time is creating a structure right from the start, although God does not create time, in our sense of days and nights, until the 4th day — “And God said, Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years…” (verse 14). I even asked about this. The answer boils down to “it’s a mystery.” Or that the editor/author of Genesis wove a structure with built-in memory aids, for example, “And there was evening and there was morning….” Or that God’s time is different from our time. I really have found this interesting to think about.

Although, “In the beginning when God created ….” seems uncontroversial, it actually is and once again because of time. I like the way Everett Fox in his translation (“The Five Books of Moses”) puts it:

“At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth…” This puts “time” in the present tense. It puts creation into a continuing project. God did not just wind a clock and set it ticking. Nor does God need a starting point — God is creating — then, now, and to come in our words. Maybe this whole thing — creation — is timeless and continuous actually. Maybe there is for God that “flow”, that wonderful feeling when you are just in the moment and the process? Language can barely capture that!

Well, we’ll see where this goes!

(Welcome any new readers — likes and comments are very welcome!)




Mark 3:20-35 in review

Last Sunday was when I performed Mark 3:20-35 as a lay reader. I don’t like the word performed by the way. Some storytellers are very dramatic and use their body as an actor might. There’s a fine line or discussion to be had about when storytelling turns into acting. My inclination is to stay on the storytelling side – use my hands, face, voice, and maybe an occasional minor prop (I used a stone one time), but I don’t move my feet and don’t “mime” things. I’m also limited by the microphone placement at my church. At least once I’ve used the “wired” mic, so I could move around however I wanted to but actually made me nervous. And once we were in the chapel and not the sanctuary so there was “just” my voice – that was great. I can put on quite a performance voice and I love the smaller space and being closer to the audience!

But what I am trying to write about is “how did it go”? What did I learn? I think it went very well but this sort of analysis is not my strength. I was caught off guard by how packed church was last week, my guess is over 200 people, because it was graduating high school senior day (among other things). As much as public speaking doesn’t give me the willies, that was perhaps the largest crowd that I have had, and that was a bit of a stretch to my comfort level!

I tried very hard with my face, with my voice, to display shock when Jesus says “Who are my mother and brothers?” Because (as I wrote) I think that shock is integral to the story. He isn’t being “sweet”. Jesus is going beyond “oh we’re all family here”. He is provoking his audience to feel a moment of fear: maybe this guy is nuts. We don’t like this image of Jesus as being provoking. It’s annoying when someone behaves like this. It’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. Isn’t Jesus a nice guy?

But I have no idea if I succeeded in giving the audience that moment. Or if it matters. In the end, each person in the audience hears what message they are meant to hear from God. That trust I have in the Holy Spirit is what gives me the audacity to do this!

The second reading was I Sam 8:4-22, where Samuel outlines to the people all the ways a King will be horrible. I did not blog about it because I couldn’t connect the dots to how it tied into the Mark passage. However that is the passage that my pastor focused on in his sermon, and he referred to a King as a “strong man”. That for me was when scripture shimmered.

“But no one can enter a strong man’s house

and plunder his property

without first tying up the strong man;

then indeed the house can be plundered.”

Once you give power to a King, how can you tie him up? How can anyone from the outside plunder a strong man’s property? Only from the changed and broken heart of a King, could real and lasting change come instead of (to coin a phrase) just a game of thrones. What is power anyway?

Pick a king carefully. And consider this guy who talks in parables and is deliberately provoking. What sort of “king” is he anyway?



Prepping for the Festival Gathering of NBS 2018

This year’s Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers is going to be at the beginning of August in Dayton, Ohio. There will be about 200 people, maybe more, and nearly all of them definitely extroverts. It is wonderful friendly warm welcoming bunch of people; a Venn diagram of pastors/church professionals + biblical scholars + professional storytellers/actors + a handful of “civilians” like me. It is 3-1/2 wonderful days of worship, keynote speaker diving deep into a topic and texts, and wonderful and varied breakout groups. It is place where you can say something like, “You know I’ve been thinking about the motif of fire in scripture and how it runs all through it, alternating between purifying and destructive.” And people will nod and discuss and add thoughts to your thought. It is pretty much my idea of heaven.

It is an excellent place to be a beginner and learn how to tell the story.

It is an excellent place to be not a beginner and keep on learning!

There is worship everyday and it is wonderful and out of the ordinary. The Keynote speaker speaks the first three days and has never ever been even slightly dull. The Keynote speaker is given the three themes of that year’s conference and they get to suss it all out and weave it together. There are workshops. There is story theater where you listen to folks tell longer-than-usual stories and just are amazed. There are breaks and exhibits and games and …. the very best thing is the Epic Tell. That is when a book or a large part of a book of the Bible is split up into sections and a bunch of storytellers who volunteer each have a piece and they go on one after another, maybe 30 people or so. It is hard to describe. For about 2 hours a section of scripture is performed. This year is 1 Kings 1-11. Hearing scripture out loud and hearing a huge continuous bit of it is an unique experience. You hear rhythms and themes and images repeat or stand out or interweave that you just would not hear reading in silence.

Every evening, sometimes going on quite late, is “Lighting the Fire” and that is when anyone can sign up for a “slot” that is no more than 8 minutes and tell a story. Any story. There are “jack” stories about impossible adventures and misadventures, there are sad/happy/wise stories, there are fables and folklore, there are scripture stories, there are true stories — anything at all. It is very special.

Besides the Epic Tell, this year’s “theme stories” are all about our hearts — God has or wants to write on hearts, turn our hearts of stone to hearts of love.

II Cor. 3: 1b-6

Jer. 31:31-34

Deut. 6:1-9

I think over the weeks before the Festival I’ll see if I get one or more by heart my ownself and blog about them.

Mark 3:20-35 practice and a surprise

Working on Mark 3:20-35 — to get it down by heart — has been a challenge because of the structure of the story and the repetition or almost-repetition of some of the words. But it continues to be fun to study and think about. You might be wondering how to get something memorized?

Well, in short, you just do it. You just get the words in your head. You just tell the story to yourself over and over; I do it in chunks. And I finally have all the chunks basically in my head and am working on being “word perfect” (or if I’m going to vary some of the words intentionally versus by mistake). And I’m not smooth yet. I spent about 20 or 30 minutes one morning at church, where it was less disruptive than home, and just practiced out loud, then checked the bible, then practiced, then checked, and etc. I practice out loud when I’m driving to work or driving home. I practice silently in my head when I’m falling asleep or in the shower. Basically to get the words inside, I swim in the words. I write the words down and look for connections.

The best connections seem to happen by surprise, which is what happened the morning I practiced at church. It was the first time I really had the space to let my voice power out. After all, my family doesn’t need to hear my loud performance voice.

In saying it out loud, I heard it. And this story seems to be: Is this guy Jesus, who has a mother and brothers and sisters, just delusional? Seriously, is he the Son of God or a prophet or … just someone who isn’t in his right mind? Someone who has a demon?

And the structure of the story — remember my post about that? That I didn’t know why Jesus’ family is mentioned, then we’re off sorting out the scribes, and then we are back to his family?

Well, I think it popped into my brain, at least one possible reason or feature of it. Because Jesus, in responding to the scribes, has proven pretty well that he is in control of himself, that he is clever, that he is calm, that he is not being controlled by a demon or by random impulses.

But then his family comes back and the crowd says, hey your Mother and brothers are outside. And verse 33 happens:

“And he said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

And for a second — how long a second? — there must have been a sudden pause in the minds of the crowd sitting at his feet. Doesn’t this guy know who his mother and brothers are? Has this guy forgotten his family? Is this guy actually not in control of his mind?

Just a second, just for a second, did we all doubt? Did those sitting there doubt him at that moment, maybe even feel the cold breeze of fear?

And how completely beautiful that Jesus brings it home, to our hearts: we are his brothers, sisters, and mother, we who do the “will of God”, we who sit at his feet.

Jesus loves us that much, that we are in the family.

Imagine sitting at his feet, he’s been talking about the scriptures (I think) and then he sorts out those scribes from Jerusalem. Your guy here is on fire. You’ve got people’s knees in your back, and your knees are hitting people, and the air is maybe a bit ripe, even with the door open. You are thirsty and hungry but at the same time you are learning so much, and feeling so much hope: this guy is making God’s love seem real. And then that moment of doubt, of fear, that you’ve been tricked all along? And then he looks you in the eyes — you know it is you he is looking at — and he calls you his sister.

And you have never felt so safe and beloved.

Mark 3:20-35 and forgiveness

In trying to get this whole thing, Mark 3:20-35, into my heart so I can tell the story, I am saying the lines

“Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins
And all the blasphemies they utter”

with a bit of weariness. With a pause between “sins” and “and all”. But it changes in tone depending on which word you “punch” — try it yourself:

PEOPLE can be forgiven all their sins…
People CAN BE forgive all their sins….
People can be FORGIVEN all their sins…
People can be forgiven ALL their sins…
People can be forgiven all THEIR SINS….
This could be a prayer…..

Try it with a question mark in your voice.

Try it with an exclamation mark in your voice.

Try it with joy.



Mark 3:20-35, and trouble

The first verses of Mark 3:20-35 set up conflict. First off, Jesus and the disciples are hungry and prevented from eating! Then there is the conflict with Jesus and his family of origin. And finally, Jesus and the scribes from Jerusalem. And the possibility of conflict between the demonic and the human is raised.

And this is pretty much life, isn’t it? We’re going to be hungry; the daily toil is going to take its toll. We’re going to have family trouble or misunderstandings now and then. We’re going to have trouble with those in authority if we don’t, for example, pay our income tax or get our proper car tags or all sorts of things. Or we could have trouble with authority in terms of the workplace, if you think things should be done differently at work. Jesus was basically having workplace trouble, yes?

So sometimes the trouble is righteous – Jesus is right about God’s love being the way forward to heal a broken world (or so we trust). It is still trouble.

Sometimes, as I would guess with demons trouble just falls on you (lets just roll with this for now, I don’t really know what to think about “demons”, but I hesitate to say it is all metaphor, that feels wrong to do somehow). And certainly with illness mental or physical, trouble just happens to you.

This just is not a perfect world, then or now.

In the previous blog I noted how the structure of this scripture mentions the conflict between Jesus and his family but immediately goes into the situation with the scribes before circling back to family. Why this “wrapping” structure? Perhaps one truth is that family drama is pretty much horrible; we want our family to be fine and in harmony. So that conflict being most important, for most of our hearts, it wraps around the conflict between Jesus and the scribes from Jerusalem.

As far as I can tell, however, Jesus and the disciples remained hungry during all of this.

Mark 3:20-35, structure

You know how a really good storyteller or comedian will set up a story at point a, circle around to b, c, d, and at the wrap up, hit point a again, but with a twist, usually funny? It is, to me at least, always a delight when a story comes back around.

This passage of Mark is just like that – one of the first things we hear is that Jesus’s family is concerned about him because they have been told that he’s “gone out of his mind.” And that’s then dropped entirely for a story about the scribes from Jerusalem who thought Jesus was being controlled by a demon. (Which might be another way of saying the same thing back then; the point is Jesus called the scribes to him. We do not know what is going on with his family or where they are or what they are doing. There is even — isn’t there? — just a little tension because why isn’t Jesus sorting out his family first?) This goes on for a while and you might even have forgotten about Jesus’ family. But verse 31 – there they are again.

What’s unclear at this very start of learning the text is why these stories wrap together; what the connection or “zinger” is. Is something lost to history, some sort of inside joke or context? Is something perfectly obvious going on and I just don’t see it yet?

There is so much going on in these 15 verses! This is going to be fun to get my teeth into.


Next Storytelling Sunday June 10

So I have about 6 weeks to prepare for this, and there is no knowing which of the lectionary choices will be the reading. The “lectionary” is a shared interdenominational system of readings for Sunday morning — generally an Old Testament, a Psalm, a Gospel reading, and a New Testament, but it can vary. I’m not sure who this created this or when, but the idea is that pastors need a structure or they will preach willy-nilly. And apparently we don’t want that! So thus the lectionary.

So — the Prophet Samuel’s warning about kings….looking very wise eh?

Psalm 138

Genesis 3:8-15 which is the part where God catches them post-apple….

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35 — the story of people thinking Jesus was crazy or had a demon and he had to be like “no Satan doesn’t banish Satan, this is from God”, and his mother, brother and sisters show up.

Since I seem to be building up quite a lot of the Book of Mark, and I have just about finished reading a book about it, I think I should concentrate on the Mark reading. I feel a bit daunted honestly, because it seems long. It seems to me to have two parts, as I noted above, before his family show up and afterward. And there is room in this story to wonder about stuff:

Jesus is at home — apparently Capernaum, maybe his own house or maybe Peter’s house? And the crowd — were they desperate or joyful or something? And the scribes from Jerusalem show up — those “elites” no doubt! It was crowded, yet they heard him speak. You can imagine his mother being worried, and his brothers and sisters.

And perhaps when Jesus opens up his definition of family to include anyone who does the will of God — I can imagine the look of love on his face. I can imagine him spreading his hands open. I can imagine the murmur that went through the crowd, of amazement, of hope, of belonging. Or even in some cases, some arms crossing over chests like, what is this guy, what is he trying to pull, what sort of trick is this?

There’s a lot in this passage. It’s going to be fun! Will I also find some connection between the lectionary choices? Sometimes you do and sometimes it is a mystery to me. No doubt there will be something surprising along the way.