Update to Theo-Storying

I finally got around to revising Theo-Storying: Reflections on God, Narrative and Culture. I expanded one chapter, and added an entirely new chapter. The new chapter is on the use of stories for theological reflection. I alsotheostorying fixed a number of little errors from the earlier edition. Curiously, I was able to keep it the same number of pages because I adjusted the formatting slightly. This allowed me to keep the same cover. I don’t know why… but I like the cover.

For some reason I had a bit more trouble with Amazon this go-around. For the E-book version, it wasn’t accepting my .doc file. I ended up sending my .pdf file. Amazon Kindle doesn’t really recommend using .pdf because the results apparently can be a bit “wonky.” However, I saw no more “wonkiness” with this version than the normal e-book result. But hopefully later we can solve that problem. With the paperback version, it was different. Everything went in smoothly, but then Amazon said I need to verify that I hold the copyright. I don’t think I gave them any reason to doubt that, so not sure the problem. Then I found that the Edit button is disabled… so I can’t (yet) fix things. However, when I went onto Amazon, it looks like the new version of my book is there. So not sure what is going on… but it seems like it doesn’t really matter to the end user— just me.

In some ways, Theo-Storying is my favorite book. That is because it is the only book that I wrote because I wanted to write it. This is not strictly true. It is the only book that I wrote because I wanted to THAT I FINISHED. Other books I finished I wrote because of it being my dissertation, or because my wife or I are teaching a course and we wanted a book for students here in Asia that covers the topics in a way that is appropriate for the trainees.

 

Theostorying: Reflecting on my Reflections

I wrote a little book called “Theo-storying: Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture.” It wasn’t for formal publication. It was just an exercise in my own theological reflections. I put it up on this site (under “My Books”) and on Scribd. I reread it in the last couple of days and was pleasantly surprised that I still liked it. It has some misspellings and some awkward grammar at times. Some things I would change if I decided to revise it. Generally, I feel it stands up fairly well, however. The book is now available on Amazon… HERE.Cover 1

But it got me thinking. I used (sort of coined) the term “theostorying” but what does the term mean? In chapter 2 I play with the idea of definition, but never really come up with one. Further, the more I think about it, the more inadequate what I wrote in chapter 2 seems. So here are some thoughts at least for the moment.

Theostorying is “the act of creative reflection on God, and our associated relationships with Him and each other, crafted artistically into the medium of the story, so as to allow the listener to join in the reflection through experiencing the story, being challenged by the story, and inspiring further questions.”

Let’s work through the proposed definition.

1.  Creative reflection. Theostorying should neither be a rehashing of dogma, nor be heterodox. It should, however, push and challenge our understanding of truth. It should look at theology from a different perspective. It should provide a new voice to old questions, as well as new questions.

2. Crafted artistically. Storying (both the creation of stories and the telling of stories) is an art. Storying in this case would normally be as a short story or anecdote rather than as a novel or epic. It should draw interest and entice the listener in. But regardless of the form, creativity and imagination are required to create the story and transmit the story.

3. Medium of the story. The story is the medium but it is also inextricably intertwined with the message. If one ends with “the moral of the story is” or “the lesson we can learn from this is”, such a lesson would only be one prepackaged idea drawn from the story… not the sum purpose of the story. If the story could be adequately summed up in one sentence, the story does not adequately inspire  theological reflection.

4. Experiencing the story. We are given the opportunity to be drawn into the story. We tend to learn best through reflection on our own life experiences (and sometimes through the life experiences of others). A good story allows us to join into the story… often from the perspective of different characters. Doing so, we experience, reflect, and learn.

5. Challenged by the story. A good story doesn’t just tell us what we already know, or what we already believe, or what we already believe we know. It challenges us culturally, theologically, and personally. <An example of a personal challenge: The parable of the ewe lamb, challenged King David. The story did not challenge him culturally or theologically… he knew theologically and culturally what should be done and the story did not question that. Rather, it challenged him personally when he was told that he was experiencing the story from the wrong perspective. He was experiencing it as the kingly judge, when he should be experiencing it from the perspective of the rich neighbor.>

6. Inspire further questions. Good theostories don’t just give the full answer. They inspire questions. They might inspire questions because the story seems unfinished, or because the story doesn’t explain why things went in one direction versus another, or because it suggests conclusions that are personally uncomfortable.

What are some good questions associated with theostories?

A.  What next? In the Bible, we don’t know what happens to Jonah after chapter 4 of the book. We don’t know (for sure) what happens to Japheth’s daughter. What did the Prodigal Son’s elder brother do next. In missions we often do case studies where the situation is set up but the ending is intentionally unfinished. We are supposed to place ourselves within a specified role in the story and say what we would do next and why. It is highly educational and far superior to memorizing a bunch of rules.

B. What if? What if pharoah had let the people of Israel go without a fight? What if Judas had confessed and asked for forgiveness? What if Job did curse God? What if Zedekah had stood up to the power elite in Judah?

C.  Why? Why did Judas decide to betray Christ? Why did God place enticing fruit in the garden and then tell His inquisitive creations not to eat it? Why did God save us through a blood sacrifice? (Was God “handcuffed” into doing it that way, or did He choose that way as a lesson for us?)

D.  Who? Whose perspective do you connect to in the story. What if you placed yourself in a different perspective. What if you were not one of the Israelites invading Canaan, but a person living in Jericho desperately trying to protect his family? What if you were the Levite, in the story of the Good Samaritan, hurrying to your next appointment (perhaps afraid of being attacked, with no medical skills)… how would you respond seeing the dying (possible dead) man… honestly?

God of the Story

IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH

This is how the Bible starts. The term “in the beginning” (b’ereshith) has a subtle mystery associated with it. The
beginning of what? Here are a few possibilities. The Beginning of God. This appeals to a pantheistic
understanding of God, but appears to be Biblically unsound. The God of the Bible is a Creator God, and
world is His creation.
The Beginning of the Heavens and Earth. This holds more promise, especially if one assumes that Genesis
1:1 is describing creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) as opposed to giving structure to a formless dark universe.
Still, it seems a bit redundant. “In the beginning of the heavens and the earth, God created the heavens and
the earth.”
The Beginning of Space-Time. In this era of Modern Physics, the interaction between space and time
provides fuel for another viewpoint. God exists, and creates space-time. At one end of space-time is “THE
BEGINNING.” The other end of space time is “ETERNITY.” Before (if that is a correct term) the
beginning there was God and whatever was with God, but space-time, the universe we call our home, did not
exist. In the fullness of time, space-time will end and we will have eternity, with whatever characteristics it will
have. This seems plausible.
The Beginning of the Story. Before Genesis 1:1, the story, or grand narrative, that is related in the Bible, has
not started. The story starts with the creation of earth, with the associated heavens, and ends with the new
heavens and earth– and eternity. Eternity, then, would not be the cessation of time, but the end of the Great
Story.
I am not sure we always have to choose one interpretation. I certainly believe looking at the Bible as a story holds merit. A story is:

“an account of characters and events in a plot moving
over time and space through conflict toward resolution.”

The Bible obviously has characters and events, which takes place over time and space. It moves through conflict to
resolution. To me, the bigger question is whether there is a plot.
A plot to me suggests a couple of things. First, it suggests intentionality. A recording of stuff happening does not make a plot. A plot, for fiction, involves crafting of events in a coherent fashion so that the early events link, and mean something, within the timeline of the story. In non-fiction, history, events are chosen and displayed in (again) a coherent fashion to give the events meaning within a timeline.
Because the Bible has God, working within history, as the main character, the protagonist, the story of the Bible has
aspects of both fiction and non-fiction. The story of the Bible is non-fiction in that it claims, on the whole, to describe what happened, is happening, and will happen. The story of the Bible is like fiction because God is more than a character in the Bible, and more even than a historiographer, but the author of history. Thus, the story is more than simply the collecting of events, but the crafting/creating of events for the plot.
The dual qualities of fiction and non-fiction are difficult for some. Some focus on the human element of the story where
God becomes more of a character and less of the author. On the other hand, some focus on God as sovereign author to the extent that people become nothing more than characters in a play— props–, plot devices. It seems to me that the Bible works in “creative tension” between God as author and God as character.
Second, a plot suggests connectedness. On first reading, the Bible does not appear to be connected. It was written by different people over a long period of time utilizing different genres, in different languages, and set in different cultures.
Does the Bible have a sustained plot with intentionality, giving meaning to events, and connectedness giving causation of events? I believe so. The plot elements seem clear enough. The most basic flow of a story involves;

    story

The Bible as a story can be seen as

Paradise

Paradise Lost

Paradise Restored

Harmony between God, Man, and Creation

Disharmony/Chaos

Restoration of Harmony

Purity/Perfect

Sin/Imperfection

Purity/Perfection

and more.

The basic flow of the plot can be argued about to some extent depending on the perspective of the reader. Even the antagonist can be argued about. Many point to Satan as the antagonist. However, most of the Bible seems focus on us as humans as our own worst enemy. Satan provides little more than guiding element in the chaos of rebellion.

However, the resolution event is more clear. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus. This event provides the clarity to the thread of God’s work in history. The divinity and humanity that is described as existing in Jesus brings the threads together. God is both author and main character of the story. Yet it is our story as well. We are characters in the story. We are also partly antogonist and protagonist. The divine and human are inseparably intertwined.

This book is a look at stories, not a look, primarily, at the Bible. But I believe it helps to start from the grand story and then work to the little stories within the grand story.

<From my Book, “Theo-Storying:  Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture.” If you are interested in it, you can go to my AMAZON PAGE.>