My Uncle James is one of the greatest storytellers I have ever known. He just loves sharing a good story. I remember an early morning phone call (5:00 am) while I was a student in England when he just had to share a story he had heard (and also to argue about what the time was in London!) Even now he will call to assist me with my sermon on Sunday. (I rarely can use one of his stories, but they are always funny!)
Our scout troop was out on a camping trip when James decided to regale us with one of his stories, a true account of a family event. As he was spinning the tale, a cousin kept correcting him. “Wait, wasn’t it in December?” “Aunt Vida didn’t live over there!” “I am sure that Dad had already moved out of the house.”
Finally Uncle James turned to him and said, “Don’t bother me with the facts! I’m telling a story here!”
I have thought about Uncle James a lot recently as this political campaign has moved into high gear. It seems that everyone is “telling a story here,” rarely bothering with facts! At the very least, they conveniently shape the facts to fit the story they are telling. The result is a cottage industry of fact checkers. Stories in the media will give a speech “Four Pinocchio’s” or “Multiple Flames” (you know, ‘liar liar pants on fire’.) Depending on which candidate is indicted we are happy or enraged.
The emotion I feel most of the time is fear. What if these “fact checkers” decide that they will come to church…and listen to the sermon! I am not talking about the story that I shared about the conversation with a person that I pieced together from numerous conversations over the past month; I am not talking about the story I “borrowed” from Tony Campolo or Fred Craddock. I am talking about the story we tell from the Bible!
Just last week our text was about the demise of Absalom. We all know that he died after his hair got caught in the branches of a tree and his horse ran on, just leaving him hanging there. How many times growing up was that used as a lesson to get a haircut? Only one problem—that isn’t what the text says! His head got caught. (Look it up! II Samuel 18)
And how many children’s Sunday School classes have sent home pictures of Joseph and his coat of many colors to adorn the refrigerator door? It is a great craft and a wonderful story. The only problem is that isn’t what the Bible says. It was a coat with long sleeves! You can understand why we would change THAT! That doesn’t make a good craft, a good story, a good sermon.
We could go on and on! Mary Magdalene was a prostitute; the innkeeper turned away Mary and Joseph; Matthew, Mark, Dr. Luke, and John wrote the gospels—all of these stories that preachers have shared from the pulpit with the insinuation that “This is the word of the Lord!”
Can you imagine the Fact Checker in the Balcony? “I give that 4 Pinocchio’s”
These fact checkers must be stopped before they get to church! Otherwise we will have to start telling the truth, and that might just ruin the story!
This post originally ran on the ABPnews Blog.