From Retailing to Retelling Tales

In my Introduction to Theology class this week we viewed “The Danger of a Single Story” by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie spells out the danger of cultures captivated by a single narrative, especially when that narrative is told by colonizers who turn tales to their advantage. We were all inspired by her challenge to ponder what kinds of stories are told by us, and of us.

A good discussion followed. Some pondered how the Bible itself is a compilation of multiple narratives. Others worried about the manner in which those same stories can be made into a monolithic master-plan. Yet still others noted our need to have some sort of over-arching story making sense of our existence. Counseling students heard the lecture more at the level of a commentary on personal narrative, and drew insights regarding how narrative can be used to heal souls. Everyone took something different from Adichie. In sum, the discussion that followed demonstrated that not only a plurality of stories makes community rich, but a plurality of hearings as well. Yet the richness of the hearing was only possible because we took the time to listen to what each heard from the presentation.

It strikes me that we don’t really take enough time together to tell tales and to relate tales told. Increasingly, technology turns us in on ourselves. We spend more time on our own, consuming popular culture, and less time creating cultures that retell our realities. Why is this? Public story telling was once a noble vocation. Every family, every village, every people had and celebrated great story tellers because telling stories is the way that peoples the world over renew their compassion, their community and their creativity. In large part storytelling today is relegated to billion dollar businesses that benefit few and numb the imaginations of many.

I suspect that we can only renew this life giving gift by sacrificing those very things that strip us of a rich narrative existence: mass communication, obsession with stars, and the relegation of the arts to spin doctors and slick salesmen. What would happen if everyone in our communities found and celebrated their own ability to tell tales, or sing sagas, or paint strong truths? What would happen if we refused to delegate our collective creativity to those only too happy to tell us a single story?

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15 thoughts on “From Retailing to Retelling Tales

  1. Marie Taylor says:

    Strangely enough I have been contemplating the idea of ‘life stories’ myself but have not yet been able to refine my perspective. Consider in the context of your post the idea that all of the blogging, etc. is (can be) a contemporary version of the village story teller, except now the village is the digital world. As always, I enjoy your thoughts.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for commenting! Yes, I think there is great possibility in the blogger as a village story teller, to the degree that a teller is accountable and engaging her hearers/readers. Celebrity bloggers only accentuate the demonic possibilities of technology. Having said that, I think nonetheless that there are amazing possibilities for democratizing storytelling online.

  2. Miranda says:

    “Reclaiming the Story in your story” would be an interesting topic for Lutherhostel crowds. Last year, I attended a Godly Play seminar. The leader reminded us we can’t share a story we don’t own as a piece of our own story.

  3. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks Miranda! I love that title. I’ll pass along your idea to those organizing Lutherhostel this year and look forward to chatting more with you about this.

  4. jannatwrites says:

    I think everyone has a story to tell and it would be wonderful if more people told them. The fascination with movie/sports ‘stars’ is strange. For a long time, I’ve lamented the fact that our culture elevates the status of these people.

  5. agjorgenson says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Janna. I was intrigued to learn that in Britain the government is struggling to keep neighborhood pubs open. These were places where folks gathered to chat, sing, tell stories, visit with their neighbors etc. Increasingly people eschew people and choose passive entertainment over communal engagement. Big problem.

  6. diannegray says:

    I’ve written my life story but it will probably never see the light of day – but I love reading old stories that were passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation. We need more of that, not the magazine stories of which star is in rehab, or who’s seeing who. We’ve become a society obsessed with the lives of people who are famous for all the wrong reasons…

  7. agjorgenson says:

    Agreed, agreed and agreed. Tales told around the dinner table are so much more interesting than what celebs are up to. Getting people to value their own story is critical here. I seem to remember you writing about this somewhere along the way. Thanks for commenting!

  8. Miranda says:

    How old school. Dinner at a table? Families of more than one or two?

  9. agjorgenson says:

    Nostalgia is my calling card! On the other hand I read in the Globe and Mail today that I can construct my family… so that is also an option. Alas, I can’t give you the link. It was in my paper version (nostalgia again!) and isn’t on-line. Hmmm.

  10. Denise Hisey says:

    Such a great point! My husband and I recently bought a new camera so we can video the elder generation telling stories of their youth before the stories are lost. Hopefully I can learn the features of the camera soon!

  11. agjorgenson says:

    Great idea! Technology definitely has its pluses.

  12. souldoula says:

    We have a culture that externalizes and commercializes virtually every human domain of value, including storytelling. Storytelling has always served the function of cultural reproduction. The shallowness of our stories is a reflection of the spiritual poverty of mainstream culture.

  13. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks for commenting. I can only agree that these shallowest of stories speak to a poverty. Yet every now and then I see signs of hope, and it seems that the need to hear and to tell stories is perennial.

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