Each Thursday I read a book either to my youngest son’s 4th/5th combo class or the class of the former third grade teacher of two of my three children. Currently I am reading Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawntreader to the former and Burgess’ Old Mother West Wind to the latter. In both classes the children are glad to see me (and my wife when she reads).
Perhaps because in the case of the third graders, I am saving (or at least delaying) them from math. Or, maybe because they prefer anything to “real school.” I think that there is another and more widely held reason. Kids love stories. Don’t we all?!
Stories draw their minds into imagining sea serpents, Dufflepuds, enchanted books, a mighty ship, a courageous (and talking) mouse - Three Cheers for Reepicheep! - , Peter Rabbit hopping, Johnny Chuck digging, Ol’ Mistah Buzzard soaring so high that the sun scalds his head (Now we know why those carrion creatures are bald!), and Hooty the Owl taunting the crow who, while quite able to trouble others, can’t take it.
Jesus loved story.
Jesus knew and used the power of story to teach about the kingdom of God, the centrality of love, as well as to gently (sometimes, not so much), yet ever so effectively, rebuke heresy and hypocrisy. Think:
The Good Samaritan
The Prodigal Son
The Sower and the seeds
The camel and needle
The house on sand
The Thief in the night
The Vine and the branches
I venture that regardless of the amount of time your eyes spend reading the Bible, you are familiar with most if not all of those stories that the Master Storyteller told. Why? Because good stories get repeated, retold, and therefore we remember them. Sometimes I can quote the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) in order. On good days I can repeat the Beatitudes. My record for quoting Jesus’ great example prayer, spotty. I always tell the above stories correctly. I emphasize “always.” I also emphasize “tell.”
The great thing about stories is that they are told. Not quoted. In ninth grade, after much mumbling, grumbling, and a couple of melt downs, I stood in front of my English teacher’s desk and rattled off 100 lines of Romeo and Juliet – something to do with Queen Mab and silver spoons. Mrs. Banks proved to me I could do that; and for that, I am grateful. While I can’t now quote even one complete verse of Shakespeare’s masterful work of literature, I can tell you the story (at least my version) of the tragedy of the young lovers - Boy, weren’t they fools? I digress.
Last week as I walked into their classroom at 12:20 pm on Thursday, somewhere around thirty 3rd graders cheered and greeted me like a king.
They were really cheering for story.