by Brian Brown

A lot of people talk about how they long for community. But people sleeping near each other aren't a community, people sharing a common interest aren't a community, people walking around the same urban core aren't a community, and people sitting in the same massive building listening to the same sermon aren't a community.

A community is a tricky thing. A lot of these people don't really want community, because communities are defined by some pretty uncomfortable things: a shared sense of purpose and values, which means if you spout off contrary values people will tend to get upset; shared sources of authority, which almost nobody likes these days; shared histories and myths, which require staying in one place long enough to become part of them.

But the fact is that Christians are called to an incredibly deep form of community; and one of the things that is most missing in recent years towards that end is that we neither know how to tell or listen to stories.

If we are to be a part of a renaissance of the Christian imagination, we need to re-learn those skills. Our children need to be able to grow up being formed by deep, rich, beautiful stories that tell them who they are and what inheritance they've been born into as a part of the church and as a part of this community. As grownups, we need to be able to be moved to laughter and tears and sometimes horror by stories that remind us truths about our own experience, and give us windows into God's larger world through experiences we've never had. Sometimes that might be through stories that make us yearn for beauty and goodness; sometimes it might be through stories that remind us the nature of evil and just how close it is to our own hearts; sometimes it might be through stories that through irony make us see ourselves more fairly, or through humor just plain make us remember not everything is dark and difficult.

If we are formed in this way by the best storytellers, if we learn to listen properly, it's just possible we can build communities where we understand that telling stories, and listening well to the stories of others, is a part of being human. And in the process, we might just equip ourselves to constantly, as a way of life, open each others' eyes to a fuller picture of the truth.

How to listen to a story:

  • Do NOT listen for a "point." (There might be one, but art that exists only to "make a point" isn't art, no matter how masterfully executed--it's propaganda.)
  • Do NOT listen for whether the storyteller is on your team or not, or points of validation of your worldview. This is a big challenge these days, and Christians in particular are susceptible to this trap; we're so used to our books and movies and TV shows coming from "the other side" that we can get a little too excited when we discover an artist is a believer, or a little too skeptical until we do.
  • Do NOT listen in order to critique. There are times for that and you can always do it later, but you can't do it fairly if you haven't truly experienced the story first.
  • DO give of yourself. Allow yourself to be immersed in the story if you can; to see the world the storyteller describes through the protagonist's eyes, to go where the storyteller wants you to go--allow the story to be a story, not a delivery vehicle for something else.
  • But DO listen for truth. Not necessarily of the moral takeaway variety (although that too may sometimes be there), but in this sense: listen for moments that give you glimpses into reality. You've experienced truth in a story, not when you realize The Point, but when you think, "I think I just SAW something."