The first stories I heard as a child all came from The Bible. Unlike the Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne books about Winnie the Pooh that my father read me at bedtime, the Bible seemed to have no specific author. My Sunday school teachers and the nuns at my Catholic school told me in sharp, ‘do not question me’ voices, that the Bible was written by God.
What I heard is that they did not know, they could not prove who the author had been, so it was God. Period. Go away. My understanding became, it was the stories that mattered. The author was merely the dear laborer who worked to record those tales to float them out in the world. A task worthy of a benevolent god to be sure. And those stories mattered to me and my understanding of the imperfections and struggles of my mortal life.
You think a task is impossible, let me tell you about Noah building an Ark
You think you’re too old to matter, let me tell you about Sara
You don’t understand faith, let me tell you about Abraham and his son, Isaac
You think you hurt, let me tell you about Job.
Your enemies are powerful and oppress you, let me tell you about Moses.
You think the odds against you are insurmountable, let me tell you about David and Goliath
You’re a young woman, pregnant, impoverished, and alone, let me tell you about Mary and the baby that changed everything. Forever.
You think you’re alone and no one loves you, let me tell you about Jesus.
You doubt with a heart full of hate and a mind closed like a trap, let me tell about a man named Saul who was reborn as Paul, a man of strength and love.
You have no hope and your world is full of darkness, let me tell you about the resurrection.
You think stories don’t matter, let me tell you a few thousand that changed civilization.
Stories explain our world, our habits, our traditions. And disagreements of these stories cause civilizations to war and fracture. Our understandings of other civilizations, other cultures come from their stories. Tales out of ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Greece give us insight into how those civilizations interacted with the world. And our tales intersect all over the place. Dragons exist in every civilization that has ever graced the face the earth as way of example.
The author does not really matter in the greatest stories. In fact, most authors are simply retelling the same tales with different names and settings, in their own languages, in their understandings of the world. Stephen King, famously, says there is only one story. A stranger comes to town.
That holds up pretty well. A snake enters the Garden of Eden and fools a woman made from rib and mud. An angel appears to a teenage girl in a pious village and impregnates her before she ever touches her fiancée. The snake and angel are strangers that start great stories.
As I grew other stories began to speak to my soul and my world, formed the view of the world, spoke to me in more than that of the author, even in the voice of God.
I felt divine presence in Gandalf’s response when Frodo lamented that his Uncle Bilbo let Gollum live.
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
Fellowship of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play I despise, informed my faith. Out of context, I took this to mean that there was plenty we as mortals could not see or understand, regardless of science or logic. Creation was bigger than all of that rubbish.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio
Something miraculous happened when a boy called Harry Potter took the world by storm, and untold millions of children began to read. And more importantly, they began to dream. What is more important than our dreams?
Stories matter. Whatever the stories are that shape you, that touch you, that anger you, they matter. The author does not. A well-told tale or a lyrical verse forms a personal bond with you, allows you to dream, to re-imagine the world, to further Creation and make it bigger.
This is why book banners and burners are so dangerous. They shrink the world. Do not let them win. Hold tight to the tales that make your soul cry and sing.
A stranger came to town and the world changed. It has happened time after time. It will happen again.