I love stories. The best are those told outside on summer evenings while fireflies flicker in the gathering dusk. Children listen to adults who reminisce with laughter and tears. When my wife and her sister get together, they stay up through most of the night retelling stories of their youth. Sometimes we find them there in the morning, asleep where they left off.
When our children were growing up, we read to them. All children, it seems, love books. Of course they love video games, iPhones and iPads, but there is something about turning pages and touching pictures in a book. How else can you “pat the bunny?” Our children memorized many of the stories long before they could read: Goodnight Moon, Little Engine That Could, Snowy Day, Corduroy, Bible Stories for Little Eyes. If I went “off story” and made up my own lines, they knew it and corrected me.
We inherited storytelling from our ancestors. Settlers gathered around camp fires. Old men sat in rocking chairs whittling shapeless sticks. And whole families gathered in the summer shade to shell peas. They were storytelling moments that shaped life.
For many, Hollywood has become the primary source for stories. While there are some wonderful movies that portray courage, hope and faith, the ones that often prove to be blockbusters are based on comic book heroes. They portray super powers in a world of violence, vengeance and retaliation. The stories and their special effects often have little to do with the real world. Sometimes they twist history.
A few years ago we visited Philadelphia and encountered a group of high school students overlooking Independence Hall. One of them pointed to the clock tower and exclaimed to another, “Look! That’s where they hid the map!”
A young college student, who did not grow up attending church, once asked to meet with me for lunch. He was pursuing a degree in English literature and now, he lamented, he had discovered that the great English classics were filled with references to the Bible, stories he had never learned.
How will the next generation learn the stories that inform human behavior, faith and character? Most children do not attend church and parents themselves often lack knowledge of the Bible. They neither read the stories nor do they tell them to their children. Public schools are not allowed to teach them.
Who will tell the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Noah and the flood, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the Exodus, Ruth and Boaz, David, Elijah, Jonah, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?
Much of the uncertainty about our nation and the world may be due to the fact that we are losing the stories of our heritage that give direction for the future.
The Bible says, “I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. ... so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (Psalm 78:2-7).