Last Sunday I was talking about storytellers. I love a good story, and I love listening to someone who has the natural or developed talent to tell a good story. In my first churches there were a couple of good storytellers but Herman Enslin stands out in my mind.
I started serving the parishes in Perham and New York Mills, Minnesota…small communities four hours straight northwest of Minneapolis, while still in seminary. Herman and his wife, Helyn, were retired farmers who lived on the Enslin homestead farm and rented their farmland to their nephew, John. I’m not sure how old they were because when you’re 30ish everyone seems 80ish, but they were more likely about 70. Herman, his brother, Albert, and sisters, Beatrice and Helen, were born, raised, continued to live no more than three miles from one another.
All the Enslin’s children pretty much lived right around town and all of them attended and were active in my parish…the same parish they were baptized, married, and raised their children. Attendance grew from 70 to 110 in the four years I was there, but it would be fair to say that many in attendance on any given Sunday could be found talking with their grandma, grandpa, uncle, aunt, cousin, niece, nephew, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, or outlaw. Amazingly the church functioned very well despite so many people related to one another. It was a family church made up of family who loved and respected one another, and I loved them. Most family churches aren’t healthy, but the Enslin’s were different. No gossip. Seemingly endless love. Lots of forgiveness. A real awareness of God and his Church.
Herman’s stories were often humorous and he’d tell them with a (literal) twinkle in his eye. If he could pull the wool over your eyes during some of them it was all the better. Some stories were rich with his family history and memories. Many of his stories would lead to a moral or lesson…oftentimes slowing down so you could look into the window of the story being told long enough to absorb the lesson…then picking up speed to head down another story-filled road. Occasionally the story would stop abruptly so you could pause at the store of life’s lessons and drink it all in.
Very few of the stories were gossipy since these weren’t gossipy people. Fewer still were moralistic since these weren’t judgmental people. But I can picture Herman and I sharing many cups of coffee as he wove pictures of life. He was one of the great storytellers I’ve met in churches.
I often tell you, Lord, that I consider myself a professional collector of stories. I love people in general and enjoy nearly everyone I meet. What I have come to know is that everyone is made up of countless stories which have helped to shape them into who they are to this day. Sometimes I hear the same stories repeatedly, but that’s normal. How many times do we start one of our stories with, “I may have told you this before…”, or, “Stop me if I’ve told you this one….” I know people may be yawning inside when I tell them again, but they are generally pretty gracious.
I used to think people simply had a short memory on what stories they’ve told, but now I see it differently. The stories I hear more than once are those stories which are most important to the person. These are stories of fun, suffering, sadness, experience, overcoming difficulties, significant memories, wisdom, frustrations, and many other things. Some people just like to talk and dominate a conversation, but most people like to tell the stories which have come to define them and their lives.
So here I am with you again, loving a good story and thinking of the stories I know from you: the story of creation, the temptation and evil, the great flood and the rainbow after the rain. The journey from slavery to freedom (Moses), of faithfulness in suffering (Job), of your infinite presence (Psalm 23). I hear the stories of your presence in Jesus, the parables of life, the salvation despite my sins. I hear of your presence after Jesus died in the Holy Spirit, reminding me that even if I don’t see Jesus I see you. These are all stories, and are the stories that tell me about your love for me.
Thank you for storytellers, for the stories of people’s lives, and for the stories you have given me. Remind me, please, to be mindful of the stories which people share with me as they allow me to look into their hearts.
As always, thanks for listening (to my stories). I love you, Dan