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Stories that are true in the open space

I originally wrote this piece a couple of months ago and it first appeared as the initial article in a new column I am writing for the Mennonite World Review, also titled In the Open Space--and it pretty much sums up why I write this blog and the column.

I love good stories. Most of us can name favorites — a novel, short story, film, television show, something we read in a magazine or newspaper or heard somewhere. There are as many ways to tell good stories as there are forms of art and human creativity. Each form brings unique aspects to the story being told. One of my favorite things about all good stories is the way they bring God-talk into open spaces.

Among other things, good stories explore what it means to be human and live in this world. They get at who we are and why we do the things we do. They tell us something about ourselves, the world we live in and the people around us. And the best stories are true — not that they actually happened but that they reflect human nature and the way the world works. They reflect, in essence, something of the truest and best Story, the one in which we all live and breathe. Stories like that provoke us to examine what we believe and why. They help us think through the issues we face. They can even change the way we approach life, people and the world.

If we are paying attention, we dis­cover that good stories reflect God’s truth. Paul notes in his letter to Roman believers that God has made himself known to all people (Rom. 1:20) and he puts this concept into action “in the open spaces” of Mars Hill (Acts 17). On that hill in Athens, talking with a group of philosophers and thinkers, Paul uses bits and pieces of religions, literature and stories they are familiar with that reflect truth and, ultimately, God. God is all around us, he tells them: “He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him” (Acts 17:28, The Message). It makes sense, then, that our good stories — no matter who tells them — would reflect something of God.

Today, some of the best and most powerful stories of our age are on the big screens of your local movie theater and the small screens in your living room. These media provide unique ways to experience good stories. Films tell stories in a more compact and distilled form — kind of like a short story — while television uses longer arcs, somewhat like a novel. But both forms share stories in a vast cultural context. Millions experience the same story at the same time. Often, these shared stories become part of our collective and common experience, and sometimes they take on or share a kind of mythic nature (think Westerns or science fiction in general or, for example, Star Trek in particular).

These kinds of stories play an im­portant role for us. If they are good stories, they will not only reflect human nature and the way the world works. They will help us understand how we should act and the way the world should be. They help guide us in the journey we are on in our part of the Story.

If we are paying attention, these stories provoke us to think about the important things in life. They are opportunities to explore the truths they reveal — and, ultimately, what they reflect of and how they challenge us with our larger Story.