Thursday, November 12, 2009

Are you Sitting Comfortably?

Today, you get a story. Back when I was a very small child I enjoyed a 15-minute (I think it was 15 minutes) radio show that came on every day in the afternoon (I think it was the afternoon). The program featured the resonant, soothing voice of a man (I think it was a man) reading a story, just for children. The show was called, "Listen With Mother", it was on BBC Radio, and the opening line was always the same:

"Are you sitting comfortably? Then, now we'll begin."

There is a great deal of comfort in that memory, and in the image it conjures. Sitting in my mother's lap; curled up on a big chair; safe, secure, warm, loved.

But then again it's quite possible that half the time I was coloring at the table while she did the dishes and I listened... or maybe we only caught it a couple of times a week... or possibly some other variation. But in my memory that's the image.

When Rebekah and I became parents there was no "Listen with mother." I was a fully involved dad and we both loved to read to the children from books; Rebekah told better stories than any radio announcer and she knew all the family tales; no-one was home in the early afternoon... It was all different.

Imagine if there had been a movement to "Go back to the good-old-days of Listen With Mother." What if I had believed the only way to bond with my children was to replicate the experience I had when I was a child? Or if I was outraged that shows like "Reading Rainbow" or "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" were a sign that family life was compromised and falling in to disrepair?

Ridiculous, huh? The way Rebekah and I told stories is different than my experience growing up - yet it still honored the story and taught the power of narrative to our children. When Dexter the hand-puppet helped Rebekah pass on family tales the media changed form, but the substance maintained its integrity... And I can't wait to see how our daughter Naomi does storytelling with her children, one day. You can bet it's going to be off-the-charts and creative.

This is the time of the year when too many of us mistake nostalgia for authenticity. Sure, powerful memories and positive experiences teach us a lot, and familiar paths can take us to familiar places and those places are often good. But the danger is to honor the tradition and lose contact with the story.

I believe Thanksgiving and Christmas too easily become monuments to experiences we can and will never have again. BUT... the truth that makes us grateful is still alive, and the fact of God's awesome gift at Christmas is new every morning. If we connect with the amazing story of Grace and Peace and Hope and Joy and Faithfulness - then every year has the potential to give us new memories that are immediate and real.

Let's not allow our focus to shift from the reason behind all this celebration to the form of the celebration. That's just the box it came in. The important thing is the story.

Grateful that I'm involved in a reality that outshines (and outlasts) nostalgia - DEREK

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