The Power of Story x

Everybody’s talking about the degree to which works of fiction shape attitudes about life and our understanding of God. This isn’t a new discussion, either. It seems quite obvious that fiction has a way of working itself into the fabric of human experience. Just think of the number of movie lines we use almost daily to describe the vicissitudes of life. Life is like a box of chocolates, right?

There is a widely reported anecdote involving the influential Swiss Reformed Christian theologian Dr. Karl Barth (pronounced “Bart”, as in Bart Starr or Bart Simpson, according those who are supposed to know about such things). He was once asked if he could summarize what he had said in his many massive works on faith. Reportedly, Dr. Barth thought for a moment and then said: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Here’s the really interesting part of this story about the power of story. You see, Anna Bartlett Warner (1827-1915) wrote a children’s book entitled “Say and Seal”. In this work of fiction, one of the characters is portrayed as comforting a child who was dying. This character sings a song called “Jesus Loves Me”. This song was discovered by William B. Bradbury, who in 1862 composed the tune we now sing, adding to it the “Yes Jesus Loves Me” chorus.

Now, that underscores the power of story, doesn’t it? A world renowned theologian summarizes his work in the words of a song which first was born into the world on the lips of a fictional character conceived by Anna Bartlett Warner. Fiction does, indeed, have a way of working itself into the fabric of the human experience, including our theology.

I’m sure there are other examples of the same sort of thing. Isn’t this one amazing?

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Blogroll, Children, Christian Fiction, Christian Living, Christianity, Creative Writing, Life, Reading, Religion, Spirituality & Religion, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Power of Story x

  1. Interesting post! Your talking about something which I am highly passionate about, although my interest is in literature and neo-paganism, however from the same viewpoint!

  2. Bill says:

    I’m glad you stopped in, Ariel! Please feel free to come back often and share freely from your viewpoint. Blessings to you, -bill

  3. Just wanted to thank you for your kind words at my blog recently. After experiencing quite a bit of discouragment lately, your words brought refreshment to my soul. Bless you. And I do like this place! Will have to come back and visit again soon.


  4. Deb says:

    I think our authors of fiction have been very adept at illustrating the process of grief for children in stories of poignancy that touch on the very real subject of death and dying. Children, as they become cognizant of death and dying – whether they experience it through the loss of a close loved one, a friend, or via media – are curious and ask extremely honest questions. At times we adults work to shield them from this process of life, often patronisingly. Louisa May Alcott, James Fennimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, CS Lewis, JK Rowling – just a few who come very quickly to mind – illustrate through their story craft some evocative, child-centred ways of dealing with the subject and its aftermath.

    Thanks for sharing this example of literary connection from Warner-Bradbury-Barth.

  5. Bill, thanks for stopping in at my blog.

    You have some thoughtful dialogue going on here, too. I enjoy reading your posts.


  6. Dee Andrews says:

    For us, movies serve the same exact purpose. We watch endless numbers of movies (well, Tom does) much for the same reasons we read a lot of books (including, I’ll have to admit, fiction!)

    Tom literally grew up in movie theaters. His dad owned some theaters and managed some and he and his brother lived with their dad and once lived in a small apartment at the back of the concession stand building at a drive-in in Biloxi. Later, in high school, his dad ran the downtown theater and Tom walled off the back of the balconey and lived up there all through high school (his dad and brother were in a tiny room downstairs in the back).

    So – for that reason, he is a movie fanatic after all of those hours and hours in projection booths running movies.

    Or would you (all) say it is the same with movies as with good fiction? What do you think? I find it to be so, but then I don’t know that we’re what you’d call average people.

    As for your story – that’s really neat.

  7. Patrick Mead says:

    THAT’S why there are lines in that song about “Jesus loves me, loves me still, even when I’m weak and ill…” Some of those lines are disturbing, but now they are in context. Thanks. A side note: in the old blue or brown books of my youth that song appeared with a line under the title declaring “Favorite Hymn of China.” Anyone know the story behind that?

  8. I hope someone does! Thanks for stopping by Patrick. I’ve appreciated your posts of late, dear brother!

  9. Tom says:

    “the vicissitudes of life”? Who needs a dictionary? Just come to the oasis! [btw, what are vicissitudes? Guess I need a dictionary after all.]

    I wasn’t aware that song went that far back.

  10. Tom: I know the word because a preacher by the name of Harold Taylor used it almost every week. I love the sound of the word as it rolls off the tongue. I used it once in a sermon; some people thought I was cursing! Seriously!!

    I frequent Here's what they say about vicissitudes:

    1. A change or variation.
    2. The quality of being changeable; mutability.

    One of the sudden or unexpected changes or shifts often encountered in one's life, activities, or surroundings. Often used in the plural.

  11. Mike Ratliff says:

    Nice post Bill. I like expository sermons laced with good analogies that help unpack the many layers of truth from God’s Word. That song was probably one the first I learned as a child. It is, however, still very concise in telling us that we learn about God from His Word, not from feelings.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  12. Mike, You would probably enjoy this post on Milton Stanley’s Transforming Sermons blog:

    God bless!

  13. Dee Andrews says:

    This is for you, Patrick (and the rest of you, too, of course) –

    Being the obsessive/compulsive person I am, Patrick, when I read your comment while ago I just HAD to do an extensive Google search until I could find the answer to your question, and I did – to some extent (although I don’t know it’s origin – yet, anyway).

    It actually took a couple of searches, but I finally found what I was looking for online here at Christian History Institute. It tells of the Chinese connection to “Jesus Loves Me.”

    I find it fascinating and illuminating and it fits right in with my own practical theological orientation. I’ve long believed that in most things, if not all (and I especially apply it to speaking in public and writing of whatever kind, including legal), we should strive to reduce our subject matter down to one point. Get to the point, in other words.

    And I think that “Jesus Loves Me” does that for us as Christians in looking at Christianity at it most fundamental and most, perhaps, profound level, no matter how much we choose to pontificate (and I’m as guilty as anyone).

    My most cherished prayer is a child’s prayer, too.

    “Now I lay me down to sleep.
    I pray Thee Lord my soul to keep.
    If I should die before I wake,
    I pray Thee Lord my soul to take.

    If I should live for other days,
    I pray Thee Lord to guide my ways.”

    There have been more than one night in my life in recent years when I did not believe I would live in this life until morning and that was the only prayer I could think of to pray. But in those times it seemed most fitting and I was greatly comforted that my Father would indeed “take my soul” and bring me safe into the life to come. Where my dad is and my little brother and all of those I so loved in this lifetime.

    Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so. And if I should die before I wake, the Lord WILL take my soul to it’s rightful home to be with Him.

  14. This is excellent, Dee. Thanks for clerking for us.

    You are a blessing to so many that, IMO, your prayer is being answered…the Lord is guiding your ways!

    God bless you, dear sister.

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