Tag Archives: storytelling

Mountains in Matt 28:16-20

So as a storyteller, this passage sort of “gelled” when I realized it was on a mountain — not in the temple, or a locked room, or around a table — it was on a mountain. And Jesus is saying to “Go, therefore, to all nations” — from a mountain you can see (at least on a clear day) a long way. You have a feeling of seeing the whole world and far more, anyway, than your normal daily paths. I got a sort of picture in my mind of Jesus sweeping his arms out to the whole world. Or maybe even he pointed to Phillip and pointed in the direction of India and so on.

And then this verse — “And Jesus came and said to them…” Where did he come from? Wasn’t he there on the mountaintop? What’s going on?

“When they saw him, they worshiped him….

And Jesus came and said….”

I visualize that Jesus was floating in the air, descending down to the mountaintop. All could see him. And while some doubted — maybe something is wrong with my eyes — they all worshiped him. If we saw someone floating down to a mountaintop, clearly worship is a fine reaction!

So in giving the Tell, I tried looked up at “When they saw him…” and I swept my arms out and a little down, at “Go, therefore” to all nations…”

Just a tiny bit of movement to expand the story. I think it did anyway!

Plus there’s more.

I think.

What mountain near Galilee would this be? Perhaps the mountain where the sermon on the Mount took place?

Or perhaps being on a mountain is to free the disciples from temple-worship — God is everywhere?

Moses went up to a Mountain and came back down with the Ten Commandments. Mountains are important imagery in Matthew.

So — may we have a chance to get to a high place and breath in the view and feel the air. And worship God!




The story of Jesus and the blind man

In reading aloud John 9:1-41, which I don’t know if I can learn by heart, I’m struck by the man who was formerly blind. I’m struck with how impatient he gets, how annoyed he is. The response to the miracle of his being able to see isn’t to rejoice — which should be the response, don’t you think? He was blind and now can see. It sort of echoes “the sheep/coin/son was lost and now is found”, doesn’t it? No, instead the response is endless repetitive questions from everyone, and scarily the Pharisees call people to give testimony. (Is this like some sort of trial? I shall have to learn.) The man who was formerly blind has to endure all this, but when he is ultimately tossed out of the community Jesus finds him. And he worships him.

And as a storyteller that is the first of my problems — all the “he/hims”!

Take a look at this snip:

“Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” “

The Pharisees are not saying that the formerly blind man is not from God, but that the man (Jesus) who performed the restorative actions is not from God. But then, on the other hand, how could he not be from God, others say? It is a miracle. But it is a mess of pronouns!

So how do I inflect my voice? Or use my hands? Or turn perhaps — how will listeners not get confused?

And so I start! FTGOG

A look ahead

This is not a political blog. But we are living in political times. Perhaps every person of a certain age, through out the course of history, has felt that things have reached a tipping point to disaster and this is just my turn. Perhaps. Looking at environmental issues, human rights issues, mass incarceration, the continuing war, the horror of having a president who could rashly use nuclear weapons — and this is only really the tip of the iceberg — it seems like “now” is really heading to a disaster. I truly do believe in prayer. I truly do believe that anyone could change, redeem, reform. I truly am trying to stay hopeful without normalizing the situation, despite bursts of truly amazing anger and grief. So how do I act?

Among other actions, for me it means, most of all, you guessed it — study the bible. Not like some sort of spooky mystical answer machine. Not like even like what are the perfect, proper, rules. More as a storybook — a story of God and humankind’s continuing relationship. A story of love, in the midst of (or in spite of) at times terrible sin. So.

I’m all signed up for the 2017 Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, a wonderful group of people, with amazing preaching/keynote speakers, beautiful worship, wonderful workshops about how to tell a story or about other aspects of a specific story or performance. Check it out!

This year’s “theme stories” are

Genesis 18:1-15 (The Promise to Abraham and Sarah);


Luke 2:25-38 (Simeon and Anna);


Luke 2:41-52 (The Boy Jesus in the Temple).


At first glance my thoughts are “not those stories”. What will I learn from those stories? How will this help anything? And then I laugh, because of course there is going to be learning and grace. There’s no knowing. “Now” will inevitably color how we see the world and thus read scripture. And vice versa — diving into and dwelling with and breathing in scripture will inevitably color how we see the world.

I’m going to try to spend a little time with all three stories over the next few months. Thanks for joining me on this adventure in stories.




The “holy spirit” in Matthew 1:18-25

“Holy Spirit” is used first in verse 18 and then again in verse 20. And I want to contend that if you aren’t paying attention — by which I mean reading it out loud and trying to bring the words to life — then you are going to be puzzled.

I say this because I was puzzled. ha!

The Angel of the Lord appears to tell Joseph that everything’s okay because the baby has been conceived by the holy spirit. But verse 18 says that too — doesn’t he know this already? Didn’t Mary claim that? Isn’t everyone starting to talk about it?

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph but before they lived together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.”

“…But … an angel of the Lord appeared to him …. and said, “…for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

To make sense, the first Holy Spirit must said with scorn. What a little lying liar this loose girl Mary is, to make such a claim when caught in “trouble”! Did ya hear about Mary?

The second “Holy Spirit” — especially being spoken by an Angel — needs to be said with the full height and depth and breath of amazement and wonder and glory and honor and love and hope that a real act of the Holy Spirit would create. An Angel spoke to Joseph. And Angel confirmed Mary’s claim that her child was from the Holy Spirit — that God is the father of her child. WHEW. This is big. This is astonishing.

So the tone difference, the voice, the body — all needs to come into play in two different ways. The first one is easy. The second one is harder. I’ve been experimenting with holding my hands straight up, tilting my head back — but that’s a little theatrical for me.

Often to invoke the Holy Spirit in a storytelling what I have been doing is blowing a breath (or a wind) out of my mouth, “spreading” it with one of my hand. What I want people to remember, however, is God’s creation of the world, way back there in Genesis: “…a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” A breath/a wind from God started everything off. And then later in Genesis, God breaths into Adam to start us up: “…and [God] breathed into his [Adam’s] nostrils the breathe of life.” I seem to visualize the Holy Spirit part of God as a wind, a breathe, perhaps a song. I love it when a text in one place echoes back to another and they seem to fit together somehow.

So I will try to say the second Holy Spirit as solemnly as possible as well as with delight and joy and then I will pause to breathe, and to let the holy be breathed in.

To close with a bit of a ramble: Breath, wind, holy spirit, miracles, creation — I remember holding my newborn all those years ago and feeling the most intense love, more intense than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t know I had that much love in me. And so how much more then, does God love?holyspirtlightwind


Matthew 1:18-25

All right, I’m in a slump, in a sadness, can I say it — I am just a bit out of sorts with the Bible. I love it and love to study it and learn it by heart, but right at the moment it seems — flat? like soda without the bubbles? Or dull? like a movie I’ve watched too often? And with all those words and cut scenes and scholarly nuances that likely I’ll miss, it’s well … just too hard. Maybe there’s a bit of pressure to always find another layer to the onion? Or a bit of complacency as if “I’ve got this” and it’s all simple now. As if, right?

How can something be too hard and too simple? It’s not the bible, it’s me, right? I need to lean in and dig down deep and be faithful because inspiration comes from perspiration not from feeling good.


Though would it hurt anything if it felt, well, more fun?

As the days grow shorter and the trees start to turn colors and a tiny hint of fall at long last is in the air (has there ever been such a long summer?), clearly my energy is low. And with world/national events as they are trending, well…. Spirits and energy are low, or rather, my spirit anyway.

Yet there is also a hint of Christmas in the air — or at least the stores. And I love it! I love seeing the boxes of tinsel and glitter and trees and everything that we love and that gives us hope. In fact, I was looking at the pre-lit artificial trees for sale with color lights and fancy controls when a gentleman next to me sighed and said, can you believe this is out already? And I said with a big grin, oh I love it, how much fun is Christmas? And his whole face changed, he matched my grin, he found a spark of joy to put in his eyes too. It was a small tiny connection with a perfect stranger as we focused on the joy and not the work or the clean up or the despair of finding presents.

So perhaps this is the season to learn a new Christmas story. I have Luke’s down well. And it is hard to turn from Luke’s story. But let’s take a look at Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:18-25.

The first thing that strikes me is that this is actually a harsh story. This is not a happy story, to start anyway. A young pregnant unwed girl in that time and place was in actual danger. As sadly some are even in our time. How shall society both keep order and help the vulnerable? This is a story of a good man in a broken world who finds …..

a dream

a hope

an angel

a son

a commandment by God

a fulfilling of prophecy

a wife


That’s a lot for a man struggling with a big problem to take in. God turned life around and upside down, for Matthew. [eta to say I meant for Joseph. but of course He turned Matthew’s life around as well eh?]  And for us.










Interrupted by Summer

I try to be very regular with my blog; and in a couple of weeks I’ll be back to it. This summer has been very busy and strange. I thought I would make a list.

  • My son will be off to start college in a few days — a transition for the whole family indeed.
  • We all just joined most of my family of origin for a vacation by the ocean coast — it was cool and beautiful. And everyone got along. It was really a welcome time of renewal for family bonds that were a bit frayed.
  • I’ve been reading many things, but would mention the amazing “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. Oh sweet Jesus this is good and this is healing. I’m not nearly half-way yet, so it is possible she gets theological. But just in case, let me note that it doesn’t take a whole lot to see that breaking the “honor/shame” thing is perhaps one of Jesus’ key mission tasks, yes? There is a lot more going on here than “self-help”.
  • And on TV, Stranger Things was just a heart-stirring delight of anguish and action and wit.
  • Another wonderful book was by Shondra Rhimes: The Year of Yes. Yes instead of fear, yes instead of easy, yes instead of safe: this is really inspiring by an inspiring woman. And a quick, fun, read.
  • And the Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers met again in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and again an amazing time was had. There was a workshop about Matthew 5-6 and specifically the Lord’s Prayer that opened it up as if something we have all said and heard a zillions times could be fresh and new. It was truly moving. The keynote speaker unpacked tremendous things about the first testament, specifically the “well” stories of Jacob and Moses. She was a really excellent speaker although less of it seems to have “stuck” in my brain. I was disappointed when she didn’t tie it into Jesus meeting a women at the well in John but instead discussed the strands in the Bible as a whole of a “voice” called “Priest”, a voice called “Wisdom”, a voice called “Apocalyptic” (what I would think of as a Prophetic voice). The Priest voice provides a solid ground (“As it was in the beginning, is now, and always shall be.”). The “Wisdom” voice can acknowledge that things now can be quite awful and unfair. The “Apocalyptic” voice can provide hope. Yet I was left with a feeling that she doesn’t trust the hope from this voice, and I certainly understand how hope can be trap or a sham or lead to not planning for the future. But between you and me, I need that hope and my life is wonderful so I can only imagine how someone with truly terrible sorrows needs the hope. Our speaker didn’t mean these voices to be in opposition or conflict, but they do mean that at times the Bible contradicts itself. Being able to tease out who is speaking/writing can help resolve that.  And there was plain old fun at the Gathering, and so much laughter. I can’t think of the Song of Songs now without laughing. I was determined to make friends — this is the safest place in the world to make friends — and I think I did.  Next year, join me! It is going to be amazing.
  • Finally — my back is better! My pain sometimes has vanished completely and I can move and bend and dance. This is very precious and has led me to not sit down at my computer, ha. For me, besides being faithful to some boring exercises as near to everyday as possible, the healing was found in an Applied Kinesiology type of Chiropractor — I’m aware that for some people this is just snake oil but honestly it works for me and I’m so happy.





Interrupted by musing

Why is storytelling important?

Here are three quotes from a webinar this week about storytelling and nonprofits from Susy Schultz of the Public Narrative:

  1. Stories show they don’t tell.
  2. “We tell our stories to become whole. We tell stories to live, to connect with one another and to build community.” Edwidge Danticat
  3. But most important: stories can move people to action.

This just again underlines that the Bible is so much more than “a book of rules”. It is poetry, myth, laws, prose, letters, “history”, and history, biography, adventure, love story, war stories, adventure, talking donkeys, so much… It is stories all the way down, and like an onion, they unfold and unfold again….

1 Samuel 9

Just this morning I read an article about reading the bible. It suggested that try as we might, the verse numbers, the footnotes, all of the extras that are there to help us understand, they also “clutter up” the story. The sweep of the story, the connections, the form of literature that it is, as well as other factors, can all be lost when we add clarity. As an experiment of sorts, for 1 Samuel 9 online, I choose the option to omit verse numbers and so on. And I just read and kept reading. And it does flow in a more natural story-like way, and the narrative actually explains itself.

For example, we start off with “There was a man of Benjamin….” and any number of bible studies that I have been a part of stop right there and explain that the tribe of Benjamin was a small one and not powerful, and which son of Jacob Benjamin was, and so on. But if you just read, then all of this is in the story, revealed or reminded to the audience in a certain way, with a method. The original folks who listened to this story, of course, were much more familiar than we are with the story of Jacob and the tribes of Israel. Yet, the narrative itself tells those of us who aren’t so familiar what we need to know. It is very curious indeed that for all I say, as most Biblical Storytellers do, to “trust the story” it turns out I haven’t trusted the story as much as I thought I did.

Let’s start with trusting the story, that the narrative has a point to make by starting out in way that feels like folklore or myth — the son of a rich man, Saul, is sent by his father, Kish, with a boy to find some missing donkeys. Not only is Saul the son of a rich man, we are immediately told that he is more handsome than anyone else and taller — “head and shoulders above everyone else”. This is a great start to a tale! And just before this, remember, we read about the Lord and Samuel agreeing, however reluctantly, to give the people a King. Well then! Wouldn’t a King need to be the best, more beautiful, tall, and rich? I think we should be thinking “aha! Saul sounds right kingly if  you ask me.”

Saul and the boy head out and travel through the hill country of Ephraim, the land of Shalishah, and eventually Shaalim but did not find the donkeys. I can’t help but wonder how long did this take? Where are these places? And he then passes through the land of Benjamin and reach Zuph. And I have all these questions, but I keep reading and it turns out that Saul has questions about the journey himself. Saul says to the boy who was with him, “Let’s turn back, or my father will stop worrying about the donkeys and worry about us.”

The text addresses the very tension that was building in me as I read — what are you guys doing? Why are you still traveling around looking for donkeys?

When I start to read this out loud, just the first two verses, I cannot stop it from sounding humorous. It feels as if it is meant to be funny, to me. I can imagine other people might tell it differently and maybe since I’m a woman, and of mature years, a story about a rich man and his handsome son just strikes me as immediately eye-rolling and, well, funny. I found my right hand spread up and out with “a Benjaminite” and then my left hand, up and out, “a man of weath” and a little shoulder shrug. These may not be opposites but the coupling strikes my ear as funny, and also as a way the storyteller can immediately signal to the audience that there is something “small” about the tribe of Benjamin and yet that Kish himself and his son are extra-special.  And then Saul being extravagantly described, since the Bible really doesn’t describe anyone very much, just seems both funny and fishy to me. It is a signal to the audience, to the reader — something this good-looking must be good, right? Or something this good, might be hollow really?

Of course how one starts out telling a story isn’t necessarily where you end up. But I’m starting with humor. I invite you to read the whole chapter, see what it is like with and without verse numbers and if you think it is funny.  I’ll pick up again next time and carry on.

For the glory of God.

(my footnotes: A Short History of Bible Clutter; Bibliotheca (is it different to read on paper verses online? I generally read online but have my study bible open and next to me as well. Is this changing the flow of the narrative?); ESV Reader’s Bible.)



Interrupted by Mom

My mom who is 80 years old is visiting us this week which is a blessing and an interruption. It has also made me think about storytelling because my mom has a hard time telling stories in a straight line. Instead her stories seem to twist like a ribbon getting into knots or sometimes a coil with a story inside a story somewhat like how the story about the women with a flow of blood is wrapped inside the story about the little girl who Jesus raised from the dead. Is it the story inside, the pearl, the one that is precious or is it the shell or is it both, somehow? Is the story about the hiding cat and how funny it was, later, when things are funny, because she had to call my Dad (that was when my Dad was able and healthy, that was long before that great decline and the vast silence) who at the time was a 1000 miles away to ask what to do, how to find the cat, how to prevent the horror and sadness if it wasn’t found or if it had been injured but it was fine and he just showed up when he was ready at the bottom of the stairs and that happened during the time that she came down to help us unpack into our house when the baby was just over one years old and not yet walking, and so maybe that is the story, but then he learned to walk proudly that day or a few days later about the 4th of July just stood up and walked like what was the big deal and everything was so joyful, the meat we grilled and got to eat on the holiday, the missing cat found, the baby walking with pride. Which one is the story? Are they all the miracle? And is now then all these years later that in a second seems yesterday really the miracle? We’re blessed indeed, all the down, into each coil of story, into each ribbon of thought and love.

Writing out the story

Then Jacob went on his journey this link should show you part of my storytelling worksheet, how I try to write out the passage that I am trying to learn by heart and find connections.  So for example, I double-underlined “flocks” and “sheep”. I made the word “land” brown and also “stone” since that is a part of land/dirt/ground. I single-underlined references to “well’s mouth/mouth of the well” and put well in blue (for water).

Now that I type this out, I realize that I should have put the word “watered/water” in blue as well, to connect with well, but I used a different bold font — I didn’t see that connection until right this second. This scene is just so full of life, so full of water and abundance and hope.

It is striking to me to note the “looked/saw”. Later on in the worksheet, Jacob says to the shepherds, “Look, it is broad daylight….” and further “Jacob saw Rachel” and her beauty and the sheep. This is important. In fact, a lens to look at this whole bible and religion stuff through is that of “seeing”. Do we get out of own heads and our own desires and worries and truly see others? Our family? Our friends? Strangers? Do we see? How does God see, if that is possible to imagine? How does God want us to see each other?

What do you see in this passage that I’ve missed? What might you connect? What might you focus on? No two storytellers will be the same. That’s part of the fun! It’s also I think how scripture works, that while there are so many many things we can learn from each other and from amazing scholars, at the same time the Word of God speaks to us personally as well. There’s a careful tension there, but it is the “living Word”, yes?