Once upon a time: the elements of style

by | Aug 24, 2019

I remember buying a book for a writing class years ago. The book was titled The Elements of Style. One of the contemporary versions of this book is now in its 4th edition. I haven’t opened this book in years and I’m not sure if I could find it.

The Elements of Style was originally written by William Strunk Jr. in 1918. It has been published in a number of editions using the original content that is in the public domain, updating the language and adding content. This book has been a best seller and used in classrooms all over the U.S. In 2011 Time named The Elements of Style as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.

In this article I reference this book more for the title than for its content since this article is focused more on telling our story verbally than through writing. But both are important. In fact, any form of telling our story, depending on our circumstances, can work. The point of this article is to tell our story with style. I want us all to learn how to become better storytellers.

We began our series. Tell your story, with a question that Jesus once asked His followers, “What are the crowds saying about me?” Of course, the more important question for each of us is the followup question that Jesus asks them and us, “Who do you say I am?” This is the place where our story intersects with the story of our origin and what has happened since. So the question is whether I realize that my life is intricately intertwined with the life of Jesus Christ?

Both authenticity and how a story ends are critical elements of style in telling our story. A story that simply leaves us in suspense is not very interesting. Unless the story ends in a “cliff hanger” with the intention of a continuation we are left feeling unsatisfied. It is not that all stories end with “happily ever after,” but we at least expect the loose ends to be brought together in a way that leaves us with a sense of completeness. And stories with happy endings are generally our favorites.

Last week we talked about what happens when we hear a story that captivates us. The suspense causes dopamine to be release into our body which sharpens our focus. We want to know what happens next. We become emotionally invested.

In chapter 13 of Luke, Jesus encounters a woman who is bent over physically. The woman has been unable to straighten up for 18 years. Suppose this woman was telling you her story. Imagine that her story begins with promise. A young teenager finding her passion, meeting her life-mate and charging into life with energy and promise. One day she is struck by an affliction. Perhaps it happened over many years and slowly reached the point of where she was when you met her.

Is this the end of her story? This is a sad story and one that leaves us in suspense. The dopamine levels will soon subside but not in a way that we hoped for. But is there more to her story. She continues.

One day this woman went to the Synagogue. It was the Sabbath as was her custom. Perhaps she faithfully went by herself week after week praying for relief from her affliction. The suspense continues to build.

One Sabbath day something was different. She couldn’t really see much of what was going on but there was this man who came that day that they call Jesus. He was a rabbi and some say a prophet. The woman had heard stories.

What she did did not know was that Jesus noticed her. He was behind her but she didn’t know this. Some of the onlookers were curious what this man with a reputation for stirring up trouble might be up to. But not today, they reckoned. Today is the Sabbath when everyone puts aside their work and their affections and take the day off.

Jesus calls out to the woman, “You are free from your sickness.” Jesus then places his hands on her shoulders and she slowly stands up straight. It is a miracle. After 18 years of being stooped over this woman can now see the eyes of the person in front of her rather than just feet. And what the woman sees is Jesus.

What do you do after such an encounter? What can you do? You have been touched by God. Yes you. A person who had reached the depths of despair and hopelessness. But everything has changed now. Who is this Jesus? For the woman whose affliction was removed on that day Jesus is her salvation.

We read that the woman’s reaction was to praise God. We don’t know if she was able to piece the parts together and realize that God was right in front of her. She had looked into the eyes of God. She had felt the touch of God on her broken body. She had felt the healing energy of her savior bringing salvation throughout her broken body. She would no longer be the stooped over woman. She was and still is, as Jesus said, a descendant of Abraham. But she is even more.

When Jesus saw her, he called out to her, “Woman, you are free from your sickness!” He placed his hands on her, and at once she straightened herself up and praised God.

Luke 13:12-13

In last week’s message I made a claim that our story is our superpower. But not just some story that we make up in order to try to convince others to like us. I contend that authenticity is the key to a good story. In order for a story to be authentic it has to be our story. Our “real” story and not a “made for public consumption” version.

As the authenticity of a story creates a connection between us and the person sharing their story, another hormone, oxytocin is released, creating empathy. We become emotionally invested as listeners. We can place ourselves in the synagogue that day. We can recall a similar experience where our affliction was lifted. Perhaps we didn’t feel God’s touch or look into the eyes of Christ but we somehow understand the connection because something similar has happened to us.

But what about the person who hasn’t yet been healed? What about the person who doesn’t realize that they are stooped over? They are physically standing straight. They feel as though they can do it all on their own. They barely need friends much less some rabbi who lived two Thousand years ago. Why will they care about my story?

The elements of style that make your story interesting and will emotionally connect with the listener will connect even with the person who has not met Jesus or has decided to deny or to hide from Him. Perhaps the ending doesn’t relate as well to the listener when they hear it. It might be years later when they realize that they too are bent over. When they realize that they too are afflicted. And they recall hearing a story about a person who was once afflicted but now they are free after meeting Jesus Christ. “This could be my story,” they think to themselves.

Can I sell a story that denies that Christ is who He claimed to be? Certainly. But while the story may advertise satisfaction your delivery will fall short of your promise. My satisfaction in hearing your story will be shallow. Just as your story will be shallow. Your story will lack substance because so much of your story will be based on untruth. You are who your are because of Christ. Denying the role of God in your life rips away the authenticity that makes a story worth hearing.

In week two of our series we took a step back, or to the side, to talk about a health trend called loneliness. An increasing number of us are experiencing loneliness and this is negatively affecting our health. The cure for loneliness is connection. The path to connection is storytelling. We are connected by our stories. After all, we have a common origin. We have the same Creator. Yet our uniqueness makes our stories unique.

This week our focus is on putting our story together. At least one chapter. Our inspiration comes from this story about an unnamed, afflicted woman whose life changed forever after meeting Jesus Christ.

An important element of style in storytelling is authenticity. Be who you are. Which is another way of saying be who God created you to be. Recognize that your gifts are just that — gifts. Your ability to reason, to speak, to sing, to create, and to tell a story is a gift that comes from a loving, Creator God. If your story reflects the humility that comes from a recognition that you are not your own creator, your story is more credible.

Once upon a time I did not know Jesus Christ. But now I do and this changes everything

Another style point is to tell our story with the humility that comes from recognizing that we are not our own creator, and that we are gifted by the God who continues to be with us. An additional style is to recognize the humor that our mishaps offer us and be willing to laugh at our own mistakes. But the most important style point of all is that our stories must answer the question, “Who do we say that Christ is?”

These are the stories that give hope. These are the stories that give life. These are the stories that connect us. Each of us was created for divine purpose. A purpose that can bring great joy and healing to others. But each of us wanders away from time to time. Sometimes we are persuaded by others or by our own greed or ego. Sometimes we simply make a mistake.

As our story moves from “Once upon a time” to the answer to the question of who we have found Christ to be in our own life, our story becomes a story of a faith  journey. A story about a belief in something that we cannot see. Yet we know that our faith is itself a gift. And in our choosing life we can help others to choose life simply by sharing our story.

Once upon a time I did not know Jesus Christ. But now I do and this changes everything. This is our story.

Learn to use the elements of style in telling your story. Come join us. We worship each Sunday at 10:30 am. Come learn why it is important to tell your story and how to do so. I lead a short Bible study in the Asbury Café at 9:30 am. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.

A Community in Love with God, Each Other, and our Neighbors.