“Story, story! Story!!
Once upon a time! Time Time!!”
So an elder gathered the children under the bright moonlight. They had come from the various homes in the village. Sitting in a semi-circle, he settled on a stool in front them, his voice rose as he narrated the heroics of Akinkunmi, a courageous man who led the hunters of their village in battle, when they were being ravaged by their neighbours. At the end of the story, the old man shook his head with a smile as he raised his hand to the skies with a clenched fist. “Our village won the victory”, he said in an overpowering baritone. From one generation to another, the story kept ringing in the minds of the children. They told the story. They told it right. They lived with that conviction. They held on to the tradition. They never lost the culture.
In 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in the Acton University Conference, at Grand Rapids, Michigan. I remember vividly one of the courses we had, with a lecture titled, “Lose the Story, Lose the Culture”. Michael Novak in a very moving manner narrated tactically the beauty and advantage of never losing one’s story. He made a huge statement in the fact that a story well told, “brings into play imagination, manner, style, and even tonal quality”. It captures the entire conceptual faculty of the listener, for which he is also likely to want to tell the same story to those he comes across. A good story in this sense therefore is like spinning a beautiful yarn around a cultural substance, which becomes too adorable to be destroyed. It makes a positive impact and is therefore passed on from one generation to another. Novak further affirmed that, “sometimes, we learn narratives from family or an outstanding teacher. But sometimes narratives come to us through a surrounding community or even a whole culture.”
The “theme of storytelling”* as given to us by the Holy Father Pope Francis, for the 2020 edition of the World Day of Communications may look rather unexpected, for we live in times when it is more popular to gather around what we refer to as breaking news, than for a profound reminiscence, which can engage our total conceptual imagination in a tedious task of tidy thinking. But this exactly is what a father does, which the Holy Father brings us to. He takes us back to move us forward. This is a necessary paradox for us to engage in, “so as not to lose our bearings”*. As we battle with the “the cacophony of voices and messages that surround us, we need a human story that can speak of ourselves and of the beauty all around us”*. We really need to heed again and again that, “these commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut 6:6-7). The loud noise today, exemplified in the abundance of conspiracy theories, gossips, false and violent language, which impress quite easily on many fickle-minds, calls for real wisdom to be able to stand firm and “to be able to welcome and create beautiful, true and good stories”* with the “courage to reject false and evil stories.”*
In order to avoid the danger of replacing the truth of who we are with cosmetic ideas borne out of seemingly novel narratives, we must always go back to “the story of stories”*. Pope Francis puts it clearly that the Sacred Scriptures is the story of stories with God as the creator and the narrator.* Without mincing words, here is direct call to us all to go back to the roots to rediscover the beauty of our story, live by it and pass it on. The Holy Father’s message takes an excursus through a verse in the Book of Exodus, “that you may tell in the hearing of your children and grandchildren… what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord” (Ex 10:2). He writes, “the Exodus experience teaches us that knowledge of the Lord is handed down from generation to generation mainly by telling the story of how he continues to make himself present. The God of life communicates with us through the story of life. Jesus spoke of God not with abstract concepts, but with parables, brief stories taken from everyday life. At this point life becomes story and then, for the listener, story becomes life: the story becomes part of the life of those who listen to it, and it changes them.”*
Indeed, the one at the centre of the story is the Lord of history himself. We must provide a thread through our stories that puts him in the driving seat all through. Nevertheless, we need to make sure that the story enters into context, culture, and our individual stories, to be told again and again from age to age, making use of every available medium. For instance, our theology must bear meaning in the context and culture within which it is taught, needless to say so the same about our homilies and catechesis. What if we pay more attention to the simplicity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, the exemplary men and women who even are still alive and tell their stories more loudly on the media platforms available to us today, electronic and otherwise?
Ours is a great legacy. It is infinite. It is necessary to live it as a culture. But we must not lose the story. We must tell the story. We must tell it right. Then we can live it with conviction. It will go from age to age. Those who listen will become stronger. If truly as Neil Postman said, “all culture is a conversation”, then we cannot afford to halt our continuous and creative conversation. Telling our story is one of the best ways to continue that conversation.
Happy World Communications Day 2020.
Fr. Martin Badejo
(World Communications Day, May 24, 2020)
*notes with direct quotations from the Pope’s message
See the Pope’s message here 👉🏻