Jackanory - Tell a Story

I loved Jackanory as a child - for those who are not from these shores or my generation, it was a piece of cheap TV for children where a "celebrity" read a story every afternoon for about 15 minutes, over a period of a week.
Well following on from my reflections on Brueggeman's "Prophetic Imagination" a couple of days ago, I've been prompted to think about the importance and power of story, not just for entertaining children, but to bring about change. Part of that was a result of another book I was reading "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett, which, for those who haven't read the book or seen the film, is about a young white woman in the early 1960s collating the stories of black maids in the epicentre of segregationism, Jackson, Mississippi. I've posted reviews of both the book and film on facebook recently (via Goodreads and Flixster respectively) and in the review of the film I explored, briefly, how the book was not only shortened but also simplified to put it on the screen, producing a film which was good enough in its own right, but which had lost a lot of it's texture and power. And the truth is that today, unless a story is ultimately told through the medium of film or TV it will not reach its maximum audience, yet neither of those have the potency of the written word... So this was a serious opportunity missed to address some of the post-segregationist issues that are still an open scar in the US, but which are taboo to discuss in polite society... Yet who doesn't think that some of the rhetoric concerning the re-election of the first coloured President of the US is actually racism in disguise? And who would dare to suggest that there is actually racism inherent in the black community? I believe that some of the plot changes in the film were made to remove the latter issue... And the avoidance of controversy will always be a factor in mainstream movie-making... Turn the story into a feelgood historical artefact with a healthy dose of humour and a sprinkling of sugar and you can make even the unpalatable into good box office (just like Minny's pie - read the book or watch the film to understand that allusion.)
But the greater skill is to tell stories, by whatever means, which do not allow you to sit as a spectator, but makes you take sides, and switch sides; which raise questions not only about our understanding of historical events, but makes us question how that understanding underpins our present positions; which prompt us to not only take positions on events far away and long ago, but apply them to our own circumstances and our own history. 
Paul Ricoeur, the philosopher talks about the "hermeneutical circle" where the reader or listener to a story gets drawn in to the story itself and has to re-evaluate their preconceptions... I think of it more as a spiral, particularly where we encounter stories which offer us different perceptions of the same events (as in the Help)... through this repeated engagement around a core event, we should not simply keep going round in circles but be drawn in and moved on, like a screw slowly working its way into the wood...
For years I have believed that telling stories will be fundamental to any healing in this province of ours... If we don't allow the stories from different perspectives to be told in a shared environment, then different people and communities will continue to tell them in environments where they cannot be challenged or challenge and so will develop in a skewed an simplistic fashion... catering for their limited audience in exactly the same way that mainstream movie makers seek to cater for their audiences in an unchallenging fashion.
And story-telling is fundamental to Judaeo-Christian faith... In recent years Christianity has tended to deliver the faith in propositional terms, offering a straightforward ABC123 of faith, with all the complexities ironed out... If we tell stories at all it is merely to illustrate the point we are making... But in the Bible the story was the point... scripture is fundamentally story... whilst we all know how much Jesus loved stories... Again commentators have tended to obscure this by insisting that Jesus' stories or parables were "earthly stories with heavenly meanings", ie. they were merely illustrative of his meaning... But most of the parables invite their hearers to take a side, to make a choice... and frequently Jesus subverts expectations in even the shortest of his stories... 
Story telling of this kind is not just entertainment to while away the cold dark night but to challenge norms and preconceptions... It was probably the loss of the sense of jeopardy in the film version of "The Help" that disappointed me more than anything else... These women were taking real risks in seeking to tell their story, but there was no real sense of that in the movie... But perhaps the very idea of risky story-telling is alien to mainstream movie makers (after all Chris Columbus was one of the producers - Was there ever a man so badly misnamed - had he been in charge of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, they'd have been used for pleasure cruises round the Med rather than finding the New World!)
But Jesus knew not only the power of story - but also the risks involved... Indeed Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree that his story of a vineyard and its rebellious tenants was one of the causes of his arrest and subsequent death...
Killed for telling stories...
Didn't think that when I watched Jackanory as a child...

Shalom

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