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Tinsley column: Stories that save us

Bill Tinsley
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Telegram & Gazette

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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When our children were growing up, we read to them. All children, it seems, love books. Of course, they love video games, iPhones and iPads, but there is something about turning pages and touching pictures in a book. How else can you “pat the bunny?” Our children memorized many of the stories long before they could read: “Goodnight Moon,” “Little Engine That Could,” “Snowy Day,” “Corduroy,” “Bible Stories for Little Eyes.” If I went “off story” and made up my own lines, they knew it. And corrected me.

When we put our granddaughters to bed, who are 9 and 7, they always want us to tell them a story of when we were growing up. Stories are the stuff of life. The best stories are told outside on summer evenings while fireflies flicker in the gathering dusk. Children listen to adults who reminisce with laughter and tears. When my wife and her sister get together, they stay up through most of the night retelling stories of their youth. Sometimes we find them there in the morning where they fell asleep.

We inherited storytelling from our ancestors. Pioneers forging their way west told stories when they gathered around campfires. Old men related stories on the porch where they swayed in rocking chairs and whittled shapeless sticks. Whole families told stories when they gathered in the summer shade to shell peas. These storytelling moments shaped their lives and future generations.

In the last century, Hollywood became our primary source of stories. But sometimes Hollywood and history got things mixed up. A few years ago we visited Philadelphia and encountered a group of high school students who were gazing at Independence Hall. One of them pointed to the clock tower and exclaimed to another, “Look! That’s where they hid the map!”

Even Hollywood has been shut down by the pandemic. Movie sets and movie crews are idle. The reruns on Netflix are getting a bit boring and some families are rediscovering the magic of telling stories.

With many churches forced to rely on streaming and almost all having suspended children’s classes, parents have an opportunity to step into the gap, to read books and tell stories to their children. Imagine the power of reciting and reading once again the stories about Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Noah and the flood, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the Exodus, Ruth and Boaz, David, Elijah, Jonah and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?

Much of the anxiety and despair that has afflicted our nation may be due to our neglect of the stories of our heritage that give us value and meaning. The Bible says, “I will utter hidden things, things from of old - things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. ... so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they, in turn, would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (Psalm 78:2-7).

Bill Tinsley reflects on current events and life experience from a faith perspective. Visit www.tinsleycenter.com. Email bill@tinsleycenter.com.