Our Neverending Story
My grandfather, whose name I bear, was a storyteller. He and Grandmother lived in a small brown house in a tiny village in rural Indiana. When I was a boy, their house was our destination every Thanksgiving for what amounted to a family reunion.
After piling out of the car my brothers and I had much to explore. There was the rain barrel at the corner of the building. The garden and chicken coop. The barn and barnyard with its single cow. The small building out back housing a bench with a plate-size hole carved in it. And most intriguing of all, the bathtub sunk into the lawn containing water, green plants, and gold fish. Yes, my grandparents had a bathtub full of goldfish in their front yard.
The interior of the house was a single L-shaped room with a potbelly stove in the crook of the L. Tables were set up in the L’s long side to accommodate the three generations present. There was prayer, mind your manners, and Midwestern farm cooking at its best. (I dare not list the dinner menu except to say that all this was b.c. – before cholesterol.)
After the meal, in the practice of the time, the women and girls cleared the tables and washed the dishes. The men and boys moved outdoors to pitch horseshoes or check on the garden or feed the goldfish. But Grandfather could not stand long anymore, so he soon returned to the house, and others began to follow. He settled into his favorite chair, stoked and lit his pipe, threw one leg up over an arm of the chair, and began to tell stories.
Any comment or question reminded him of a story. Tale followed tale as he recalled his life, a small-time farmer who made his living working with horses. His audience grew in number as the kitchen crew joined the crowd. Finally almost all present were gathered around the little man whose stories floated on the aroma of Prince Albert pipe tobacco.
He told about the day when he had to fight off Grandmother’s cousins who did not want him to marry her. The brawl was brutal, but he prevailed. He told about horses, mules, and dogs he had worked with – good and not so good. He told of neighbors who worshiped in the white frame church on the hill above the village. There were tales about folks who got what they deserved and those blessed with more than they deserved. There were stories about love and justice, mercy, and compassion. Stories of shysters and saints. Of life’s strange ironies.
Although he did not use such language, Grandfather’s tales were theological. They were rehearsals reflecting on a simple faith and decades of experience. They constituted the narrative of his life, the convictions he lived by, the creed of his years. And when his life ended, he was content to let his story merge into the greater story of family, church, cosmos, and God.
The Christian Bible has a narrative framework, with more story in it than any other kind of literature. Narrative outmuscles poetry and prophecy and epistle. Maybe that means that faith in God need not always be distilled into propositions. Maybe sometimes it should be left in solution, as story, however messy.
As those who follow the story of Jesus, we find ourselves in that brew – that vast, unruly plot which crawls and lurches toward eternity. It begins with creation, establishing this as God’s world in relationship with him. It ends envisioning a fresh, new creation in which justice reigns. The plot hinges on a man who is true Israel, true humanity, human Servant, divine Son. And he lives today, Lord of all.
We live out our lives as our stories are woven into the vast tapestry of his story. And when our little chapter must conclude, we resemble the Pevensie children as The Chronicles of Narnia come to an end: “All their life in this world and all their adventures...had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” The Great Story...Grandfather would like that.