by Melissa May
Diaconal project paper, reflecting on building Christian relationships through narrative-2
|Backstory Learned Through Life-Stories
When meeting another person, we typically learn surface details first. If we get beyond names, introductions usually offer one label for a person: “Hi, I’m Mary Johnson. I’m the council president.” “Hello! I’m Melissa May—I’m a seminary student doing my internship at the Lutheran Mission Society.” “This is Bill Anders, the sexton at our church.” We tend to meet so many people on a regular basis that even remembering names is a challenge, so it’s a good thing we aren’t often given more information than this at first! Soon the time comes, however, when it is clear that since we will be spending more time with this person, we need to get to know one another better. In settings of ministry, this is happening when we get to know that Mary has roles other than council president, when people ask me about my life beyond seminary and internship, and when Bill tells us about his profession and his family. We get beneath the surface a little to find out more of the depth of one another as people.
At some point, this getting-to-know-you-better deepens even further when we learn elements of one another’s backstory. I have borrowed this term from fiction writers and filmmakers to indicate a fleshing-out of the past events in a person’s life in order to help the audience better understand the depth of their character. This may be a helpful way of thinking of this phenomenon within the relationship-as-story concept, though it is merely another name for the idea of life-story and narrative identity.
Getting to know someone better is crucial to ministering to one another
and doing effective ministry together, although there are instances in which one can minister to/with another person or group of people without knowing much about them. However, though meaningful action at times precedes meaningful understanding, this is more likely not to be the case. As the ELCA’s Global Mission Unit staff write, “accompaniment moves from our reality toward a reality symbolized by the indwelling of community in the Trinity.”
Creating a Storytelling Environment
A related idea to that of incarnational introduction is that of providing an environment for storytelling. At the beginning of this project, I wondered if I would need to set up situations in which “telling stories” was the explicitly stated goal of the interactive time. However, as each party involved took advantage of opportunities to form and strengthen these burgeoning Christian relationships, storytelling happened naturally as we found out about each other and who we are.
So to be clear, it is not necessary to talk about or hold events which advertise the idea of storytelling; while conscious storytelling sessions may indeed be an effective form of ministry, this is not the particular focus of this study. In some cases, talking about storytelling may be counterproductive, as the thought of telling stories can make people nervous or feel self-conscious. Besides this, it is not necessary to announce that storytelling will be taking place in order for that very thing to be happening. It may be important to state at this point that there is a difference between the popular storytelling—popularly conceived as weaving together fantastic tales worthy of epic films—and telling life-stories. At a further point in this paper, I will explore how telling life-stories can become more like storytelling in a traditional sense.
I have discovered that it is more fundamental to facilitate conversations and interactions in which both parties feel comfortable enough to share first the circumstantial details and eventually deeper information about themselves than it is to try and force stories from people. Stories will naturally happen when people feel comfortable. Each party needs to feel valued and secure, for it is more than terrible to experience feelings of being unappreciated, not listened to, and worried about confidentiality: it is a relationship killer. Thus a crucial aspect of someone feeling comfortable expressing themselves is feeling that they know their own voice and feel that they have the ability to use it.
Finding One’s Voice
The metaphor of voice is a particularly potent one within academic fields. The concepts of “finding voice” and “claiming voice” are often used to describe the process which a person goes through to discover a way in which they can express themselves to the world. In other words, finding voice is a necessary step in being able to share one’s life-story.
Professors of religion Mary Donovan Turner and Mary Lin Hudson speak in their book Saved From Silence: Finding Women’s Voice in Preaching about using the metaphor of voice to refer to a universal means of self-expression:
“Voice, as embodied expression, becomes a place where the physical and the spiritual meet. The act of speaking begins with breath. Human beings breathe in and out all the time . . .the most basic act of life itself is the flow of air into the body and its expulsion back into the atmosphere. In the Hebrew language, the words “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit” are all translations of the same word, ruach. As breath passes in and out of the body, a rhythm and flow is created that, like spirit, gives life. . .Relating the voice to the concept of self, then, is not surprising. Few activities require such a totality of being as does speaking. Within every voice is the effort of a human being to express self. Voice signals the presence of the one who speaks. Not only does the sound of a voice affect the one who hears it; the speaker is affected also. As people vocalize their experiences, they learn about themselves, others, and the world. This action, produced by the integrated effort of body, breath, and brain, has the capacity to bring forth the deepest and most intimate expressions of the soul.”
Why, one might ask, is it necessary to speak of the process of finding one’s voice, when clearly most human beings are literally able to speak and string together an account of past events? Finding voice wouldn’t be necessary to discuss beyond a medical setting if we weren’t referring to both a physical and an abstract reality. There is something in the realm of the psychological and even beyond which separates those who love speaking in public from those who suffer panic attacks at such a prospect, which divides those who stutter from those who clearly enunciate, and which distinguishes those who say “I don’t want to talk about it” from those who face personally difficult subjects and attempt to delve into discussion despite discomfort. In some ways, not having a voice/not being able to express one’s own deepest self is a more difficult reality than physically manifested symptoms such as stuttering and panic attacks: at least with the latter, awkward triggering situations can be avoided. For those who have something which cripples their voice, their ability to communicate to others about who they really are, this is a devastating reality which follows them everywhere and may not necessarily have publically obvious symptoms.
What stops us from finding our voice, “losing” our voice, or from being able to use it? If voice is an expression of the authentic, unique self and it is therefore a reflection of a valuing of self, then that which stifles our voices is someone actively de-valuing that self—either ourself or others. What stops voice can be oppression—consciously or unconsciously inflicted by a society or small groups or individuals—or self-doubt, or fear, or anger against the speaker (from the outside or from within), or confusion and uncertainty.
“Exercising the right to speak says something about the power and value of authorizing one’s own perspective,” Turner and Hudson observe. Accordingly, reclaiming one’s voice when it has been stifled for any given reason is a process of recognizing the virtue of oneself. After a person has experienced the powerless feeling of thinking that their own innermost self and therefore what they have to say are not of value or importance, finding one’s voice is a freeing experience—a liberation from the binding chains of shame, disgrace, fear, and guilt. From these destructive feelings we are freed to think of ourselves as created good, in the Creator’s image. Hudson and Turner provide this insight: “The use of the metaphor ‘voice’ to represent the authoritative or valued self suggests that the voiced [person] is one who recognizes [their] own value and thus accords [themselves] the right to speak.”
A re-valuing of self is in order, then, for the reclaiming of one’s self-expression or voice. While it is far from the place of this study to assume any kind of model for professional psychological help, it is not unreasonable to suggest that facilitating a safe and welcoming environment for voicing one’s life-story can be helpful to a person who finds that their voice is stifled. Listening fully and actively works wonders for the person who believes that they have nothing good to say or that no one will love them if their deepest self is exposed to the light. Accordingly, I will next explore the concept of the loving act of listening.
Listening in Love
Listening is an act of love, proclaims the title of a collection of biographical interviews collected by the StoryCorps project, the largest oral history project in the history of the United States (drawing from over 10,000 interviews of everyday Americans). The StoryCorps project and its published collection are based on the premise that not only does every person have a story to tell, but that every story is worth valuing—worth listening to. The idea of listening in love is especially appropriate in a Christian context, where we have gathered in Christ’s name in order to love.
M. Scott Peck affirms the idea of listening/giving attention to another person as an act of love in his classic book The Road Less Traveled: “love implie[s] effort . . . when we extend ourselves, when we take an extra step or walk an extra mile, we do so in opposition to the inertia of laziness or the resistance of fear. Extension of ourselves or moving out against the inertia of laziness we call work . . .the principal form that the work of love takes is attention.” Attention is attending to another person’s spiritual growth, Peck contends, and the most common way to exercise attention is listening. However, most of us only half-heartedly listen, and do not devote enough attention to those we talk to regularly, let alone those we love and talk to every day.
This is not to say that with every person with whom we interact, we need to always strain every muscle and devote every shred of our conscious mind to them in order to hear what they are saying. This would be exhausting; we would soon run out of energy for our own self-care. Rather, it is good to find a balance between various degrees of listening, recognizing when the situation is appropriate to offer another person our entire, undivided attention as an effort to care for them and attend to their needs, their insights, and the revelation of who they truly are.
The more attentive we are in listening to a person when they are telling us things that are important to them, the more that they feel our esteem for them, and the more they want to continue to open up because they feel valued. Temporarily we set aside our own opinions and priorities in order to tell the other person through our complete focus on them that we are listening because we value them. Once this process happens, we as listeners are able to recognize more things of value that the speaker has to say, and the listening becomes more rewarding.
At the end of the expositional process, equilibrium is established between the parties. All have been introduced, and have gotten further acquainted through the telling of life-stories. Thus all is prepared for the next part of both relationships and stories: rising tension (or what I have termed “unsettling”) zleads to conflict and an ensuing climax of narrative energy.
The balance of individuals or larger parties who are getting to know one another is delicate. I have yet to meet any person who has been in any relationship where they and the other person/group involved simply continue to happily and more deeply get to know one another, uninterrupted by conflict, tension, or painful change. Inevitably, these phenomena must take place in order for the relationship to gain true depth of meaning: the persons involved must go through a story together, with all its bumps and twists and turns, before they can form a genuinely rich, multifaceted connection. After all, our most meaningful relationships are almost always the result of having weathered together a memorable storm.
New Ideas/Inciting Events
In a congregation, there is the stereotypical “uh-oh” phrase of “we’ve never done it that way before,” which tends to signal approaching conflict. This is a very appropriate illustration of the idea that conflict begins when a new idea or an event which incites disagreement is introduced into a relationship. But do conflict or tension necessarily come as a result of the introduction of change?
“The only constant is change,” the Greek philosopher Heraclitus is famously quoted as saying. I have certainly found the constancy of change to be true in many aspects of life, not the least of which is life together as Christians. Change may be helpful or hurtful to us (or more likely some combination of the two), but it happens all the time, in small ways and in big events alike.
In the continued example of dismay voiced at the thought of change, someone has to have first suggested that this change take place, which alters the status quo in and of itself. So while major arguments or disasters do not have to take place, changes necessarily lead to the unsettling of a previous equilibrium. The popular idiom “Don’t upset the apple cart” is a metaphor for how someone’s actions can throw off the status quo (presumably in an undesirable fashion). The saying outlines the apple cart as a collection of circumstances which can be easily but unalterably changed; after all, if we strictly follow the metaphor, the apples become bruised or even ruined in the “upsetting” and will be differently arranged when the cart is righted again. Even if only a small change occurs—one apple becomes blemished—the proverbial cart arrangement will never be quite the same, for better or for worse.
Change, however, is not always a bad thing, as the above saying seems to imply. Sometimes it is as necessary yet difficult as pruning dying tree branches, sometimes it is as exciting yet strenuous as training for a marathon, and sometimes it is as effortless and pleasant as falling in love. The variety of types of changes is matched by the scope of opinions about these changes. Like it or not, there will always be disagreements about whether a certain change is helpful or harmful to a person or group of people.
So what is it about a change that recommends itself at times to a person or can at times seem absolutely intolerable to another? This is a question which may be difficult to fully understand, but since much of tension and conflict between people results from disagreements about change, it is helpful to try and understand at least part of this phenomenon.
An introduction of a new idea can, in the right circumstances, be met with eagerness. For instance, at a recent brainstorming session during a meeting at the Lutheran Mission Society, the members of staff were trying to come up with a way to get the public excited again about visiting one of its Compassion Centers. Amidst the tossing around of several thoughts, someone came up with the idea of a “Christmas in July” celebration to be held at the Center. Everyone seemed very pleased with this inspiration, for it would be an exciting event to attract local people to come and see for themselves the ministry that happens all the time at this particular location of the Mission Society. It was an intriguing, new, attractive, and entirely feasible idea in a practical sense. The staff worked quickly to introduce the changes represented by this plan.
Tension or Conflict Emerges
However, not all ideas are as happily received. Sometimes events occur or ideas are proposed in such a way as to make someone feel frightened, threatened, affronted, or confused. This is the major reason why change can be such a breeding ground for tension and conflict.
I recently had the experience of listening to a youth group director—I will call her Karen—describe how a particular situation played itself out among the staff at her church. Immediately prior to the church’s weekly staff meeting, Karen asked one of her co-workers, Amy, whether she had anything else beyond “the usual” to add for discussion at the meeting. Amy, who worked closely with Karen as the director of Christian education, responded with a “no,” and the meeting proceeded. However, contrary to what she had led Karen to believe, Amy soon took control of the bulk of the meeting by showing the staff an article about a new method of ministry with children and youth. Amy excitedly explained how inspired she was by the article to adapt it for use in their congregation, and soon there was so little time left in the meeting that the staff could only request more information and put off the remainder of their business for another time.
Amy had an intriguing idea for ministry that all of the staff had been inclined to like, but some of them came out of the meeting grumbling with indignance. Why? The idea was filled with a great deal of potential for revitalizing their children’s ministry, and everyone liked it, at least “on paper.” The trouble was that Amy presented the concept in such a way that affronted Karen (for she felt misled or even lied to by Amy) and “stepped on the toes” of other staff members by taking over most of the meeting with an unplanned item of discussion that could have waited for another time. Many of the staff members will forget the slight offense, but sensitive Karen was inclined to take it personally, seeing it as an indicator that she and Amy do not work well together. It is true that Karen has chosen to interpret this event in a certain light, which is not entirely Amy’s fault. Another small scene of change and conflict has ensued.
Tension and conflict don’t need to be incited by an earth-shattering event such as a death or a declaration of love or even a tactless comment. In fact, conflict is often introduced at first through a seemingly innocuous event: a person is in a short-tempered mood because they skipped lunch, a simple miscommunication results in mixed feelings, a subtle difference of opinion is uncovered, or perhaps someone feels left out. Just like the manifestations of life-stories, the possibilities for the origins of shaking up/unsettling peaceful relationships are endless.
A change or some unsettling event happens to disturb the delicate peace of a relationship, and conflict and tension result. It may be as big as a violent argument , as average as a few barbed words, or as tiny as the sick feeling you might get in your stomach when you have a sense of foreboding. Conflict and tension are not pleasant, but as we shall see, there can be wide-open opportunities for growth in a relationship following the emergence of conflict.
Epiphany: New Realizations of Head and Heart
Depending on the attitude of those involved, conflict can result in disaster or rebirth. More often than not, the height of the conflict in a story is described as the climax, but for the purposes of this model, I have chosen to couch it in religious terminology and refer to it as “epiphany,” for the event which ends the rising of conflict in a relationship is always accompanied by new realization. It can be anywhere from “Oh, I never want to speak to her again” or “My friend Jack really is there for me, I can see that now,” but it’s still a new understanding about one or more of the parties involved.
In Fall 2008, the congregation of St. Paul (Lebanon) Lutheran Church in Felton, Pennsylvania was faced with a crisis of growing urgency: fuel prices were rising to the point that they weren’t sure how they could financially handle heating their church’s sanctuary over the winter. Some members of the church council were growing very tense and anxious about the prospect of being significantly financially compromised, and some among the group kept a cooler head about coming up with new ideas for solving this problem. Eventually, someone suggested that the church could move its worship services to the congregation’s fellowship hall for the duration of the colder part of the year in order to save money. Naturally, this was met with some resistance: they had never worshipped for more than one service at a time in the fellowship hall, and while there was a small altar in this secondary location, the baptismal font was bolted down in the sanctuary. How could they worship without their font? What would it be like to lock up their church building for the months between Christmas and Easter? While this prospect made practical sense, it still frightened people.
After several meetings to discuss the idea, it was decided that the congregation would put it into use, and the fellowship hall would be used for worship from January until Easter morning on April 12th. Processions to and from the fellowship hall were planned at either end of the experience, and accordingly, the cross, the paschal candle, the lectionary book, and the LBW Leader’s Edition and its missal were transported from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall by members of the property committee and church council. While some members were ambivalent about the entire thing, after time, most of the parishioners came to appreciate the freedoms that the different space afforded. Halfway through the winter months, some members expressed the desire not to return to the sanctuary because worshipping in the fellowship hall meant that they could be closer to the coffee and other refreshments! After all was said and done, the majority of the members of St. Paul (Lebanon) had had an epiphany: while they greatly valued and generally wanted to continue to use their sanctuary for worship, they came to realize that the true spirit of their worship of God was present, regardless of where they decided to go together. This may not have been a huge epiphany or even one that was reached simultaneously by all, but it was still momentous for this chapter of their life as a congregation.
In a relationship that continues to be healthy, an epiphany is a window of insight into how the relationship can be improved or how it has always had genuine meaning and value to those involved. A church might realize that it was silly to argue over the carpet color in the new sanctuary because it got in the way of loving one another. My co-worker and I might realize that we will always have differing opinions politically, but it is better to “agree to disagree” and get along in other areas rather than focus on differences which don’t have a huge impact on the working relationship. My mother and I could have a knock-down-drag-out argument, and then when we get to the heart of the matter, we realize that we were quarreling because we were both feeling wounded and insecure but we still love each other.
It is unfortunate that many relationships take a sour turn as a result of a conflict, and accordingly, the epiphanies which people experience are realizations that the relationship should come to a close or must be changed in a disappointing way. While we might wish that this would never happen, sometimes it is for the best in protecting the safety, dignity, or emotional stability of one or more of the parties involved. It is not necessarily a judgment against someone if they make a decision that a relationship has to end or be reshaped.
However, if the realization affords a new chance for further healthy growth among the parties involved, so much the better. While it is hoped that starting the relationship off in a solid, genuine manner will prevent a disastrous end, no one can ever be completely emotionally secured against such a possibility. This is a huge part of making a connection with other human beings: making oneself vulnerable to the possibility of deep hurt.
Often referred to as the denouement of a story, or its “falling action,” a continuing relationship next experiences the abatement of conflict, if perhaps only briefly. Conflict recedes in the wake of a new recognition, and the experience of peacefulness, even if it is tenuous, returns as new equilibrium is approached. In the above example of the congregation of St. Paul (Lebanon), church members settled into a new feeling of peacefulness which came with the absence of tension after their epiphany about their location for worship services. They could relax more with the realization that it didn’t matter where they were in worship, as long as they could be together as a congregation; they didn’t have to worry about their spiritual welfare or the integrity of the group any longer. With a new realization, they could rearrange the proverbial apple-cart and move forward into a new state of being.
New Equilibrium Established
The relationship story begins with a certain status quo, and with the absence of tension after the epiphany, the parties in growing relationship have established equilibrium or a new status quo between themselves. After this balance is upset, things take time to fall back into place, although not the same “places” as they once were: after conflict, things aren’t quite the same, for better or for worse. A new equilibrium and a new way of doing things or of thinking about life, is established between the persons in the relationship. The people of St. Paul (Lebanon) feel better about the present and perhaps future hurdles in the path of their traditional worship, knowing that they have solved the problem and maintained the integrity of their worship. They could enter the new equilibrium of greater spiritual security as they return to their beloved sanctuary with the Easter dawn.
However, new equilibrium is just the start to another story, or another chapter in a bigger narrative of the relationship. As our human relationships are seldom as simple as the solving of one conflict, the story continues on and the crisis proves to be just one microcosm of tension and change and resolution along the larger narrative of life. Finally, through the moving of the Holy Spirit, we as Christians can realize that we have a great gift in the midst of the unfolding of our life’s narrative. As we move through the unpredictable changes of living which may seem random or meaningless to others, we know that we are co-writing an epic story with the Author of Life, who will ensure that we are brought to the “happy ending” of the new creation in Christ.
Each epiphany that I experienced as a part of my time with these two congregations was internally based. In a sense, however, each congregation also went through small moments of epiphany of its own. This happened as they realized that what I had to share with them about who I represented—the Lutheran Mission Society—was worth getting to know.
I also came to recognize a few smaller things along the journey about some specific strategies for the storytelling-as-relationship-building process. One of my more prominent realizations had to do with the amount of time available for conducting this project: by virtue of there being any chronological limit placed on a relationship, there’s never enough time. At the very least, an artificially imposed time limit feels just that way, artificial; it is not usually the point which would be chosen by either party to close the biggest chapter of their relationship, if it is a healthy one. People’s personal and communal journeys cannot be scheduled in the manner in which a business partnership would operate. Getting to know one another and to work through conflicts together takes an unpredictable amount of time, but there is not always an opportunity to allow all the time necessary for these events to develop organically. Unfortunately, this is a flaw inherent in the general idea of one party coming into a community for the purposes of fulfilling the tenets of a spiritually grounded “project.”
I have also realized that it is rewarding and helpful that I was able to find a small number of people in each congregation that served unofficially as advocates for the building of the relationship between themselves and LMS. These persons were able to start the enthusiasm among their churches about the project and to tell stories when I could not be there. Since the mutual sharing of stories for the nurturing of friendship appeared to work better one-on-one or in small groups than with one person speaking exclusively to a large group, I was greatly aided by fellow sharers of story and promoters of the spirit of the project work.
The more momentous epiphanies I experienced within the congregations each concerned my self-understanding in the context of being a leader in ministry. It is still difficult for me to believe at times that I am worthy of being a conduit for God’s work, but with every field experience, I find myself again and again being found to be worthy not only in God’s eyes but also in the eyes of my colleagues. All of this is despite the mistakes I may make, which have by no means ruined any ministerial relationships I have had; knowing this has helped me to feel more confident. This confidence will continue to allow me to walk with God’s people as we form meaningful relationships in Christ. For I have learned that when one goes beyond humility into self-condemnation, one can no longer walk the journey with others but has forced oneself to crawl.
Additionally, it has been encouraging to engage in this project and this reflection upon it with a great deal of freedom allowed for creativity in exploring new avenues for ministry. I personally have thrived when I am able to try new things with the support of colleagues and loved ones, and so many thanks belong to all those who have helped me along the way in this process.
With thanks given to God, I would like to gratefully acknowledge the assistance and support of the following persons:
Mr. Alan Amrhine, my internship supervisor, and the rest of the staff at the Lutheran Mission Society, especially the other members of my internship committee, the Rev. David Maack and Deaconness Roberta Hillhouse,
Compassion Center Coordinators who played a large role in my training, namely Mrs. Linda Hallinean, Deaconess Laura Lutz Hall, Mrs. Audrey Sheets, Mrs. Toni Gingrich, Mrs. Eleanor Bockner, Mrs. Beth Garci, and Mrs. Alice Moore,
The staff at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, namely the Rev. John Spangler, project director, and the Rev. Dr. Mark Oldenburg, the diaconal project go-to guy,
Leaders at Calvary Lutheran Church, especially Audrey Forbes, diaconal minister, and Mrs. Shawn Franklin and Mr. Paul Rinehart, chair and secretary of the Social Ministry Team (respectively), and
Leaders at St. Paul (Lebanon) Lutheran Church, especially former Vicar Katie Russell, Mrs. Sheri Picone, and Mrs. Sandy Bankert, chair of the “Always Faithful” Committee
Bass, Diana Butler. Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006.
Butler Bass’s book begins with challenging the widely held thought that America’s mainline Protestant churches are slowly dying in the wake of the popularity of mega-churches; her contention, rather, is that healing and renewal and even flourishing are happening in many Protestant congregations. This is a work not only of disclosure but also of optimism and instruction, outlining steps for embracing and cultivating new growth in what has been termed “the emerging church.” Overall, this is an eye-opening, encouraging, and practical book which many leaders in ministry would find helpful in adding to their awareness of contemporary ministry.
Crossan, John Dominic. The Dark Interval: Towards a Theology of Story. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1988.
Crossan’s work focuses on the study of parable as a genre which undermines the world which we seek to built up (narratively speaking) through myth. By drawing upon many academic fields such as literary theory, theological studies, philosophy, and structuralism, Crossan defines parable and myth as one another’s polar opposites along a spectrum of how human beings create stories in an effort to influence the world, whether building it up, describing it, defending it, attacking it, or subverting it. This is informative reading for the study of the nature of parable, and will help theologians to gain a greater appreciation of Christ’s use of the genre.
Flancher, Arlene. Storytelling, Kids, and Christian Education. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002.
While the goal of this book focuses much more on the value of biblically based storytelling and effective methods to accomplish it, there were still many passages which were helpful in finding the continuing cultural echoes of the power of story, especially in education and relationship-building. The predominant image Flancher uses is that of “the river of biblical storytelling,” where we float downstream from the headwaters to the mouth, with the Bible serving as the current that feeds the storytelling. The journey is surprising, filled with adventure, and the waters of inspiration pour in from unexpected sources, moving the river onward through the land of life and leaving everything new. In short, the author so beautifully describes the river metaphor that one cannot help but be excited about the possibility of sharing Bible stories and our own stories with those we love.
Isay, Dave, editor. Listening is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project. New York: The Penguin Press, 2007.
Though the only real sources of information regarding the telling of life-stories can be found in the Introduction and Author’s Note, the rest of this collection is worth reading in whole or in part to see examples of the power of story told from person to person. The body of this work itself is a selection of one-on-one interviews from the many thousand that have been collected by the StoryCorps project across the United States. The stories are arranged here thematically: “Home and Family,” “Work and Dedication,” “Journeys,” “History and Struggle,” and “Fire and Water.”
McAdams, Dan P. The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
This newer work of Dan P. McAdams, who has been writing about the subject of narrative psychology for decades, explores the concept that Americans in particular are preoccupied with a certain theme within their life-stories: redemption. With the proposal that “highly generative” adults (people who want to pass on to future generations an improved world or manner of living) continually emphasize the motif of redemption from suffering in the conveyance of their life-stories, McAdams investigates how the American public cherishes the thought of finding redemption amidst pain more than any other subject matter within their collective consciousness. This is a very interesting and accessible read not only for those interested in narrative psychology but also for those who enjoy probing into the mysteries of what makes something be truly American.
McAdams, Dan P., Josselson, Ruthellen, and Lieblich, Amia, editors. Identity and Story: Creating the Self in Narrative. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2006.
This book of essays is intended, as the name of the publishing entity suggests, mainly for a professional audience in the psychological field. However, a person without this formal training may still glean some helpful insights about storytelling as an essential component of being human. The concepts of life-story and narrative identity—and thus the basics of the young subject of narrative psychology—are introduced here, and several questions compose the themes for each section of the book. For instance, do life-stories create a unity of self-identity or the thought of multiplicity (multiple aspects) of the self? Do life-stories promote stability in a person, or growth, or both of these? While many of these questions are tackled in an esoteric manner, much can still be gained from a read of any essays which one would find useful.
McAdams, Dan P. The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self. New York: The Guilford Press, 1997.
An older work by McAdams introduces the concept that is his life’s work: we are the stories we tell. Since this is a changing reality, the author makes a case for the existence of a process of forming and re-forming our life-stories as a means of transforming our lives. One can explore one’s own myth and generate new beginnings from it, for we are our own storytellers. This work contains all the accessibility and appeal of McAdams’s books as a more experienced scholar.
Peck, M. Scott. The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth. New York: Touchstone, 1978.
This classic book, often shortchanged by labeling it solely as for the purposes of “self-help,” is a valuable resource for understanding the dynamics of relationships between human beings and within the self. It describes the spiritual journey that we all are on, and how we can reach a greater self-understanding by gaining new insights about the nature of love and the actions which characterize it.
Turner, Mary Donovan and Hudson, Mary Lin. Saved From Silence: Finding Women’s Voice in Preaching. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999.
This is a gem of a book, transcending its focus of women’s voices in preaching to speak to the struggle of every person to become “voiced” in any vocation which they pursue. In fact, Turner and Hudson make a strong case for the idea of associating being fully voiced with being fully human, or fully oneself. Through exploring voice as a metaphor and its use in biblical literature, articulating a theology of voice, and describing how a person might “come to voice,” the authors have created a compelling work which can—pun intended—speak volumes to readers, whether female or male.
“Accompaniment is Relationship.” http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Glo...
This page on the ELCA’s website gives the reader a brief taste on the subject of accompaniment, the “buzz word” which encapsulates the denomination’s current vision of global mission. This part of the site is easily readable and within a normal person’s grasp of understanding; it is also a compelling pitch for becoming excited about contemporary Lutheran missiology.
Malpica Padilla, Rev. Rafael, ed. “Accompaniment: a lens and methodology for mission today.”
This eight-page document, produced by the ELCA Global Mission Unit under the direction of the Rev. Malpica Padilla, concisely explains the basics of the ELCA’s theology of accompaniment. Because this concept-turned-methodology is at the heart of all activities of global mission within this large denomination, this resource is extremely useful as a window into not only what is at the heart of contemporary Protestant missiology but also the ELCA itself.
“Story Structure I.” http://homepage.mac.com/roberthuber/school/1delec12a.html (Robert C. Huber, professor at Cerritos College)
I have extracted the graph from Dr. Huber’s lecture, which is a lesson on the purposes of story and its composite elements. Similar to other descriptions of narrative components, this lecture concentrates on the rhythms and pace of plot, diagramming it in terms of the heightening and waning of tension among characters.