Stories of Reference
On March 13 I got to go to our synod’s Spring Theological Conference. We had a great speaker and I want to share with you one of the ideas that really caught my attention. The speaker was Dr. David Lose from Luther Seminary and this is what I heard him talk about:
Stories shape our lives, our decision making and the way we understand the world. For example: imagine two wine glasses. One is a little bit fancier, finer quality and the other is attractive (for a wine glass) and just a little bit more plain. The first one costs $69.95 - it is hand blown glass from an artist’s studio and the other is $2.25 at Target.
Both glasses hold wine and are functionally the same (taste testing research shows that the glass shape and quality does not effect the wine quality). Why on earth would anyone buy the glass that costs over $65 dollars more when the other would work just as well?
The answer is the story. The $2.25 glass is pictured in a modern looking living room with books and a group of couples laughing and drinking wine. The other glass is artfully portrayed by itself along with a quotation “If the wine matters, so does the glass, it’s that simple.” What great advertising does is help us connect to a story or possible story that the product is part of. Do you want to be more like the exclusive wine connoisseur who collects beauty at any cost or the person who likes to gather friends, laugh and drink wine in their trendy home. The glass a person buys has less to do with the cost or even the value of the product and everything to do with the story people buy into.
All this is to say that stories are important and shape our thinking and decisions so subtly that we might not even notice. Perhaps this is why Jesus almost exclusively used stories when he taught. The Bible is our collection of faith forming stories which have shaped generations of believers. These stories of faith have helped generations understand the world, find direction and purpose and connected them to the world and to a deeper relationship with God.
There was a time when the Bible had a privileged status in our culture and most people knew the basic stories, parables and teachings - it was just in the air. Christians and non Christians could make references to a Bible story and most people would understand. For example someone could say “My family is going stir crazy. Now I know what Noah must have felt like...” and everyone would have an image of Noah on the ark filled with animals during the flood. Today the average person knows few if any of the Bible stories which makes using them as a reference more challenging.
Everyday you and I hear and share hundreds of stories. Most stories aren’t long or that involved, but as you go about your day listen to how many stories you tell and hear. When we talk we often use stories of reference (you can spot of story of reference when you hear “It’s like that song...” or “it’s like that episode of ____”or “that part in the book _____” or like “like when grandma burned the Thanksgiving turkey”). These references help us make a point and share something that we can’t get to with words alone.
We give our allegiance, loyalty, and trust (faith) to the source of our stories of reference because they mean so much to us. The Bible stories - great and small - are fantastic stories that show all kinds of human emotion, life experiences, truth, reality and God’s wisdom and ways. The stories of the Bible help us make meaning out the world and is the stories of reference source for Christian way of life.
I have been challenged since the conference. I have tried to pay attention to my own use of reference stories and am shocked to see how often I will make references to TV, books, songs, and personal experiences - some that take explanation - and how few references I make to a Bible story even in places where it would work as a great example. Since observing myself I am trying to use more Bible story references and it has gone pretty well. Just like the other references I make if the other person doesn’t connect to it (hasn’t read the book or seen the TV show) I just move on or briefly explain. The unintended bonus to trying this is that I find myself thinking about the Bible more and about God more in my everyday living.
I invite you to think about your stories of reference. Try to use a Bible story or two in the next week as a story of reference (note: it is not cheating to try this at church!!).