Sunday, May 17, 2015

“When you do what you fear most, then you can do anything.” — Stephen Richards

Perhaps the most difficult writing in all literature is the short story because characters you care about and with which you can identify have to be developed in just a few sentences along with a plot that makes them both alive and memorable.  One such very successful story is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens for everyone who reads it knows of Tiny Tim and the miraculous change in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge.  There are stories of love, betrayal, and the triumph of the spirit if only briefly in Earnest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” with the reader having to decide if the word “happy” truly belonged in the title.  There are stories of sacrificial love with an unusual twist in O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”  (If you haven’t read these, you can read all I name in less than one hour and each would make a great Sunday School lesson—just sayin’.)  There are stories of sadness based upon selfishness as in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” where the phrase “I prefer not to” takes on major and sad significance.  One of my favorites is “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty where what seems to be the story of a crazy old woman becomes a story of virtue and courage.  Reading these can make you a better person, particularly if you identify with any of the characters or find yourself in similar situations.  It is the universality of the moral decisions and courage that lift us, perhaps no more so than in William Faulkner’s “An Odor of Verbena” set in the old south.  However, the greatest short story writer of all time never wrote down any stories but thankfully, others did, years later remembering (because they were so powerful) every word and nuance.  This writer didn’t name the stories, nor did those who recorded them, that would come from later publishers who may or may not have gotten the meaning right.  The one that had and has the most influence on me was named “The Prodigal Son” by some publisher who knew that “prodigal” meant “wastefully extravagant” although I would make the case that it was the father who was wastefully extravagant with his love for his son (and I know the elder brother would call it that).  It’s my favorite because I lived it, I not only identified with the son who left to live a dissolute life style, I actually did it.  I know in my heart what it feels like to go back home expecting poor treatment and willing to serve as a slave just to be part of that family again.  And thanks to the unbelievable grace of God, I know what it means to have been forgiven, to have been given the ring, the robe, and the feast.  I also know the resentment of the elder brother and have lived with that most of my life.  There are still those (many of them clergy) who resent that I became a servant of God after living the life I did.  A good pastor friend of mine lived a life similar to mine and was refused to even officiate at some funerals because the family remembered how he was before his forgiveness and the dedication of his life to Christ’s service.  While all of the stories I mentioned above would make great Sunday School lessons, there are none better than the ones called “parables” in the New Testament.  Perhaps finding a parable that illustrates one of the short stories (using both in the same lesson) I listed would make a great lesson or sermon, but while short stories can help us see ourselves as we are and bring about change, the short stories of Jesus can bring eternal life and a life of service to others that brings more blessings that can be imagined.  I’m just sayin’.
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