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Telling Stories

Gavin Richardson

When I went to summer camp as a child, they told me that if I peed in the pool, a purple ring would circle around me and everyone would know that I had peed in the pool. So I would swim frantically to the edge of the pool and walk briskly to the bathroom in order to avoid the ridicule of the purple ring. I suspect that the purple ring was a summer camp lie, made up to keep campers from swimming in a pool of urine.

As a teenager, I decided that someone should create colors for human gas, coded according to the severity of the exhaust. Then as you are roaming the aisles of a department store, you would have some warning before encountering a foul stench: “Oh, no! A purple cloud. Let’s avoid that aisle for a while.” To my knowledge, no one has developed color-coded gas; but it still seems like a good idea.

OK, keep reading. There’s a point to these stories, I promise!

Beginning a Story

The Book of Genesis opens with God beginning the process of creation by speaking into the darkness: “Let there be light!” Maybe it’s me, but this story seems to begin in a remarkably different way than most stories we hear and tell today.

Many movies, such as the Star Wars saga, begin with a long prologue that tells the current state of affairs and sets the stage for the upcoming story. Generally, the prologue deals with issues or problems that will lead to destruction if they are not resolved. Rarely do movies begin with a life-giving story, as Genesis does; those storylines usually occur near the end of a film. Even I started this article with stories about problems, albeit silly ones.

Telling Stories v.s. Gossip

When it comes to telling stories, we tend to gravitate toward the dramatic. Sadly, our lives have become overwhelmed by destructive gossip. Gossip magazines and TV shows are a huge business. People magazine makes over a billion dollars a year, and TMZ makes millions. The business of gossiping has trickled down into our everyday lives and will continue to shape us until we change our attitudes and habits.

Gossip, by definition, is “rumor or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature.” Typically, gossip is information that is considered valid but then turns out to be less than true. When individuals or groups engage in gossip, their conversation is fueled by agitation and elitism. Statements begin with “I can’t believe they . . .” or “They are so . . .” These stories often begin with a preconceived self-righteous attitude.

Imagine how our conversations would change if we concentrated on being creative rather than destructive. We might begin to see the inherent beauty in other people. After a conversation, we might feel alive rather than drained. What stories can we tell that create life rather than belittling or destroying it? By becoming life-givers, we enter faithfully into God’s story for us.

Perhaps my original idea has some merit: Maybe we need to create an indicator for destructive talk, a purple cloud that would encircle people who were speaking in destructive ways. That way, we could easily spot and avoid a gossip, or we could stop our own gossiping before we go too far. Such a thing does not exist, as far as I know. Until it does, we need to figure out how to talk so that the breath we breathe is not destructive fire–breathing dragon breath but God’s creative life-giving breath.

DIG DEEPER

When you start talking about other people, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Is this conversation helpful?
  • Can something good come out of it?

If you answer “Yes,” if the words you’re speaking are true and beneficial, then keep talking. Otherwise, you may be engaging in talk that is less about God and more about elitism—or dragons.

PRAYER: Creator God, speak life into our hearts and into our conversations. Amen.

Gavin Richardson , a self-described “church misfit,” is “the short one” of the co-founders of the Youth Worker Circuit, the relational resourcing entity of the Youth Worker Movement.

—from devozine® (January/February 2012). Copyright © 2011 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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