Posts Tagged ‘Narrative’

The Stories We Live By

by   |  03.26.10  |  Uncategorized

Stephen Johnson, DMin, ThD - Associate Professor of Ministry, Director of Contextual Education

Stephen Johnson, DMin, ThD - Associate Professor of Ministry, Director of Contextual Education

I spend a good amount of time these days thinking with students about contextual theology – this notion that theology is enacted in practice in particular times, places, and people.  Not only do I spend time thinking with students about these things, but also exploring notions of contextual theology with a community of faith.  For nearly six years, I have journeyed with the Buffalo Gap Church of Christ as preacher.  The gracious invitation to walk with with them in this way has afforded me the opportunity to explore contextual theology in “real time.”  For this, I am grateful.

One of the things that strikes me as I reflect upon the relationship between teaching contextual theology and engaging in it in Buffalo Gap is the role of congregational narratives.  As homiletician, I have long been aware of narrative.  The key idea advanced by Steven Crites in his influential essay, “The Narrative Quality of Experience,” is that human beings structure and understand their experience of life by telling stories.  Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley write, “Stories are privileged and imaginative acts of self-interpretation” (Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals: Weaving Together the Human and the Divine).

I’m convinced that attention to narratives is a key to reading and understanding congregations.  I’m also convinced that helping congregations attend to and reflect upon their story is a means of communal discernment.  Let’s call it “narrative ethnography as communal discernment in the life and mission of God.”  So, I’ve engaged in a little narrative project in Buffalo Gap.  I have attempted to listen carefully and attend faithfully to the story of our common life over the last several years and narrate that story as an act of ministry, allowing the congregation to both tell and interpret the story.

There are many forms for narration.  I have chosen to produce our story in audio format episodically.  Capturing audio conversations allows the voice of others to be present in the narration and also allows for some artistry.  I have titled the project Dispatches from the Trails End: One Church’s Story in the Mission of God for reasons that may only be apparent in the hearing of the story.  So, let me share the Prologue to my little project with you, “Story and Place.”