Saturday, June 24, 2006

the context of storytelling

Stories are the stuff of human experience. Yet all stories have a context.

Tell us a story. Tell us about your church. Blog reading. Book reading.

All these questions and activities require some sort of ability to understand both story and the context in which it emerges. When you hear my story (read this blog, ask me a question) to truly understand, you need to be able to place story within context. You also need to be aware that in reading and asking, you are bringing your assumptions about life and church and emerging church and life to the table.

The emerging church suffers from this. People make photocopies rather than re-contextualise the contextualisation. The emerging church seems (IMHO) to be a shared conversation among people, groups and churches, about life and faith in a changing contemporary context. But it is so easy to objectify the stories and to read the conversation as monolithic, as “this is the emerging church.” In doing so, the stories have been stripped of context. They are then in danger of commodification, as books, websites, podcasts etc.

This week I have been a a storyteller in a new context. This has focused for me what has been a recurring question; Does this task of contextualisation belong to the reader/listener or to the communicator? Are there ways to tell stories, or frame stories, that allow context to be laid alongside story?

Posted by steve at 06:57 AM


  1. Story. Experience. They’re intertwined. When we’re deeply connecting with people, we have both in common. If we share story with someone, we can begin to enter into their experience in a sense. If we share experience, we begin to enter their story.

    Comment by Will — June 24, 2006 @ 8:16 am

  2. I’ve found, for the most part, that the leaders in the church and all the new
    fandangled post-modern re-contextualization is just a new train to hop onto to
    grab doctorates, attend seminars, write books and yadda yadda. Some of it
    seems to be a groping for the already jaded Gen-X that is coming along. The
    crazy thing is that I think the shift is correct, I just have yet to find where
    the rubber meets the road. If it is wearing black t-shirts, flip-flops and
    listening to U2 well they can have it. Hopefully this isn’t just another
    “what’s next?” The worst would be lots of leaders all yacking with one
    another. I see leaders with white gloves enjoying their specimens . Reading.
    Reading. Sucking it in. All the while railing on the consumerist culture they
    are a part of. This thing has already been commodified. It isn’t a question
    of whether it will be. The reason is that people are not hungry… and
    don’t have the stamina to be creative… and don’t really care when it comes
    down to it. Sometimes I think that it is just entertainment.

    That said, I do hope. I also appreciate your blog… and I see you’ve had some
    of the same apprehensions. I’ve simply been burned 1000 times.

    The context of your story that day was in attending a workshop. That is what I
    read. The context of my story really doesn’t matter because I find I have
    little context…. because in this intermediary when the church is still living
    a modern dream and a new world approaches… I find nobody to converse with
    about it. And honestly, what peeves me is that the ones involved in forwarding this movement are all rapturous about community etc., but when it comes down to it everybody is just as isolated as they ever were… because half of what this is is simply a realization… I don’t know what I’m trying to say.

    Whereas you wrote IMHO, I am being blunt and showing My Ignorant Opinion.
    I know for certain that my perspective is very narrow on the whole
    emergent thing. I think this is also
    part of my frustration. I can’t stand when there is a conversation like this
    one, and it is kept in circles.

    When something is alive, it cannot be contained.

    I’ve out winded myself

    Comment by Keith — July 3, 2006 @ 7:33 am

  3. hey keith,

    thanks for dropping by. i am not sure whether we have met, and nor am i sure whether you are having a bit of a go at me personally (since i do have a doctorate, attend seminars and write books and feel full of yadda yadda).

    i certainly agree with you about the dangers of Emerging Church being style and not real life engagement with people’s stories. my post was about my own personal struggle to know how and when to tell stories of real life engagement. communication always leads to a gap between real life and reality. if we really want to communicate we need to do a lot of listening, which is hard when i (or anyone) is cast in the role of speaker.

    i don’t mind whether you respond on the blog, or by email, or don’t respond at all 🙂 (although i’d prefer at least some response, since you fired up a pretty passionate comment!)

    peace, steve

    Comment by steve — July 4, 2006 @ 12:07 pm

  4. Oh no, I wasn’t having a go at you personally. I am sorry if I came across that way. I don’t know you. There is nobody I would want to personally hollor at… because I’d feel terrible about it… and I end up feeling terrible sometimes…

    I read “the context of my story today” and you said, “I’ve sat in 4 days of Ministry to a Postmodern Context.” I was thinking that -this- was the context. In other words, I was thinking that this was the backdrop to your next day’s comment about the commodification of this movement in the form of books, podcasts etc.

    The frustration you heard was all me. I have been struggling for quite a while to find the source of this movement only to be met with books and small soundbite blips here and there…

    And to find that the leaders seem too busy amongst themselves in workshops etc. That is all good, but I want to be there. I care, more than you can know.

    When you said, “The emerging church seems (IMHO) to be a shared conversation among people, groups and churches, about life and faith in a changing contemporary context.” I was thinking, “No! It isn’t shared. (not in my context!)”

    I’ve got a lot of pent up energy! I just want somebody to respond. And yes! You did! Somebody on this planet responded… and I don’t even need to be in seminary or some cool-dude retreat somewhere in some hip village in California. 😀 See, I’ve already made the fatal mistake of monolithicating this emergent thing as a Bohemian Bono Coffeehouse thing.

    You guys just keep writing the books and all. There are some of us (at least me) on the fringes of this movement. I know there is a core which is good, or at least gives me hope for something good, but in some respects, for many I think it is a curiosity. And that is all. But it is the same way with many things. I want to talk to the people who care… not who have a passing interest.

    Contextualization requires engagement… otherwise I cannot understand your blog from atom. I will take your advice and not make monolithic my experience to this point.

    I do understand that I’m off in left field. But I know why… I am isolated…

    My intuition tells me you guys have the right stuff. Maybe intuition is belief with lack of context.

    Anyways. Thanks. And have a happy fourth.

    Comment by Keith — July 4, 2006 @ 4:32 pm

  5. thanks keith. i didn’t think you were having a go, but just wanted to check and so glad we’ve got it cleared up.

    Re “have a happy fourth” … i think this is were my original post really bites. I am assuming you mean 4th of july and well, i live in new zealand and so when i posted I was like, in the US, and trying to keep my narratives and experiences clear and distinct and to not get absorbed into pax Americana.

    sort of ironic really.

    most emergents i’ve met in the US are real people who actually feel quite fragile (accept for this expereince – and would love a conversation over beer and coffee.

    Comment by steve — July 4, 2006 @ 4:40 pm

  6. Why not beer coffee? Or coffee beer? Roll them together. Both/And 😀 Join the entreprenurial (sp?) spirit of making money off any idea that you can possibly think of. Reduce all your thoughts to profits! Outside it’s America! Okay. Fixin to start singing a U2 song. Better stop while my family still lets me stay under the same roof. They are all asleep.

    We were up late last night since we are out watching fireworks for the fourth of July. After I got here which isn’t home, I had to do some business work which I finished at exactly 2:22am.

    My dog stuck his wet nose in my ear early. So, this is my story for this morning.

    The whole world should adopt the July 4rth celebration. It has become my favorite. I think it is the only holiday that is celebrated which isn’t laced with some sort of guilt package of stuff you -should- do. Maybe Halloween too. No, that one is laced with stuff you -shouldn’t- do. So July 4rth wins. The lesser holidays like Georg e Washington’s b-day don’t really count. Those are not celebrated.

    My little girl says her birthday is high up on the list of best days of the year.

    I signed up for too much work, so any day off is a day behind. These days, time off is slipping. This contract ends on October 31. So maybe, Halloween will be my favorite holiday this year. It will be my first holy day. That is ironic.

    My work revolves around the space program. Since the shuttle successfully made it into low earth orbit yesterday, I am happier than most. For me, it wasn’t a news blip, it was relief.

    I was supposed to stay the week in Austin, TX, USA… and work electronically. However, I feel I need to go back and work on-site, in person.

    I have lots of hours to get in by Halloween.

    I shouldn’t complain. I just started a business. I am it. I’ve got to find a better balance between making a business work and being with my wife and kids. And I wish my dog wouldn’t stick his wet nose in my ear. And coffee sounds good.

    I wish I would have known when I signed up for the hours that if I started 2 weeks late due to red-tape that I wouldn’t have to make it up. I have always started in a hole. I’ve yet to make it out.

    Last night, during the grand finale there was a line of cars trying to get -out- of the park. In this particular town, the fireworks occur in a park with a one road entrance. People were so worried that they’d get stuck in traffic getting out that the go-getters began making their way out during the show.

    Not wanting to beat, a line of cars formed quickly trying to get out of the park. We were parked on the entrance road. So when the fireworks hit their opus, we were blinded by car lights.

    I hollored out laughing, “Why did they even come!!! This town is crazy!!!”

    Outside it’s America… (add guitar riff here)

    Comment by Keith — July 6, 2006 @ 1:23 am

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