Newsletter for Sunday 9 October from Team Rector Peter Reiss: A reflection on story-telling…

When the nights start to get longer or rather the evenings start earlier, it is good to tell stories. They might be true, they might be fanciful; they might be full of colourful characters or maybe a complex story about one character and her adventures and encounters.

In ancient cultures story-tellers were held in high-regard; they came with the ability to entertain and to inform, to tell of distant lands or long-ago battles, of the saints and heroes of the past. We have become sophisticated in many ways, though we prefer mostly to watch our stories acted out in film, series and soaps; we like a thriller, or suspense or a twist, and there is a huge aftermarket of those who then try and find holes in the plot or inconsistencies in the story, or – jackpot – a can of coke or the headlights of a car in a film supposedly of the olden days!

Great stories may not be true but they convey truths, they shed a light on human behaviours and motivations; they might be epics like Lord of the Rings, or simple Fables from Aesop, like the tortoise and the hare; they might carry a moral, or we might at least read a moral out of them as some do from Little Red Riding Hood about the dangers for children of being out and meeting strangers.

For all our sophistication humans remain gullible and manipulable, especially by those with the gift of the gab, the snake-oil salesmen of the Wild West, and the media can give “fake-news” such an apparent authority that many of us feel we no longer know who we can trust or what version might be true. There are “bots” out there feeding their versions of stories into Facebook and Twitter, pumping their words into the market-place.

We visited Marrakech a few years ago and the famous market square every evening is filled with story-tellers, musicians, small groups of actors performing simple plays, people with “pet” monkeys or snakes; if you stop for a moment you are accosted, normally for money because you have been watching their “show”. You can wander mesmerised by the noise, and the smell of the cooking in the restaurants round the edge, soaking up the variety on offer.

But the modern market-place is even more ruthless. Those with more money have as it were the loudest megaphones, the glitziest presentations, and even paid saboteurs who undermine others; they dazzle and confuse. In Marrakech we were tourists seeing what was on offer, part amazed, part horrified, part bewildered, but it was all foreign as it were. Our modern market-place no longer has simple story-tellers but every aspect of it is marketing (that’s what we call it!), and let’s face it, they are cleverer at it than most of us can spot!

Jesus told stories and painted word pictures. He did not make money out of it, and he did not coerce his followers. He left invitations and he presented challenges. He was not afraid to be seen and heard in the market-place, but he was also crushed by the market-owners who found his voice too discordant. The market-place is also a jungle to mix the metaphor (which you can do in a good story!).

In a noisy world with more television channels than we can even count let alone watch, I think the voice of Jesus, the stories he told and the word-pictures he painted, his invitation and his challenge remain crucial to our sanity, our purpose and our peace of mind. O still small voice of calm. But his voice is easily crowded out, and his words too often left on the shelf in the book we own but don’t open.