Wednesday, December 21, 2011

As Much Story As We Need

Guido Reni 003One of the elements of the "Godly Play" curriculum is to ask the children, after having told the story for the morning, if there are any parts of the story that they could leave out, and still have all the story that they need. When I first heard this phrase, my evangelical impulse was to say "of course not!" After all, the Biblical texts were given to us, as they are, for a reason, right? If God didn't want some element to be there, it wouldn't be there, right?

Needless to say, my views have shifted somewhat. Although I do think that the form of Biblical text is what is because God has made it so, I no longer insist that this means that no part of a story may be left out of a particular retelling of that story. Indeed, I've come to believe that no one actually believes this, if they think about how their actual actions line up with their beliefs.

Take the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. When telling the story to your kids, or to your Sunday School class, how often do you make sure to include the part where Mary meets up with her cousin Elizabeth? How often do you mention that Elizabeth's husband Zechariah was made unable to speak until the birth of their son, John, because of Zechariah disbelief at being told that they would have a son? These are important parts of the story, and naturally they shouldn't be forgotten. But do we insist on including them with every account of Christ's birth?

Even the biblical authors themselves were choosy about which elements of the birth story they wanted to include in their particular retelling. Matthew gives us the Magi. Luke gives us the shepherds. Neither gives us both. Recognizing this fact is not to suggest the either the Magi or the shepherds are of greater or lesser importance to what happened surrounding the birth of Jesus, but simply that the story that each author wanted to tell required only certain elements for that retelling. And, of course, neither Mark nor John even talk about the baby in the manger at all! We don't generally use this fact to argue that the incarnation was unimportant to Mark or John (John chapter one should be more than enough evidence of the importance of the incarnation to John!). Just that the actual birth narrative was a part of the story they felt able to leave out "and still have all the story they needed."

So, as you enter into this Christmas season, tell the story. Tell it often. But feel free to tell the story in the way that emphasizes the truths of the story you feel are most important for the moment. You don't have to include everything all at once. You'll still have all the story you need.

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