Dad died on July 31. He was 98 and it was time, although I don’t think that makes the empty feeling any smaller.
Dad was very religious, attending the same small Bible church for 65 years, and he preached there regularly until just a couple of years ago. The elder who delivered the message at Dad’s funeral service spoke about how Dad loved to tell stories when he preached. I remember them. Mostly Dad retold the Bible stories. He would read the story and then make it real. He never changed the facts, but he added details. He would imagine what kind of day it was or what kind of work someone might have done. But what he did best was describe how the people in the stories felt—the confusion Nicodemus experienced when Jesus told him he must be born again. “That didn’t make any sense to Nicodemus,” Dad would say. “He already had been born. He was alive and well. What in the world was this teacher trying to tell him?” Or, what was going through the mind of the prodigal son when he finally got near home—his fear, his hope, his shame. Or, how the smart, self-confident and always self-assured Paul felt after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. “He could hardly think straight,” I hear Dad saying. “I expect he kept going over and over it in his mind. He felt so different, so changed and he couldn’t explain why. And I think Paul was a man used to having all the answers.”
During his 90s, he would ask to preach the gospel first on Sunday night. As the preacher at his funeral explained, “He would tell me he didn’t think he had much to say. But then he would tell the story and he would just be there, living its details. After the service, he would apologize for having taken more than his share of time.”
I come by my penchant for telling stories honestly. And I remember Dad’s view of what made them good. He was berating a fellow preacher who liked to be the hero of his stories. “Good stories aren’t about you. Look at the Gospels! Did the Lord ever tell stories about himself? And the stories he told changed peoples lives, then and now.”
There’s a lot of teaching in preaching and some preaching in teaching, even though I know that two are quite different, but a good story helps listeners to both. Dad used them to bring his listeners the message of salvation. I use them to rekindle the joy, power and passion good college teaching demands.