Fewer “stories,” please

The Democratic Convention is yet another reminder of the disposability of political speeches. I suspect it’s always been this way because politics has always been about the same old thing. If you think about truly memorable things said in recent political speeches, all of them were pretty much off-the-cuff or said in the heat of battle. Think Bush in New York, September 2001, or Bill Clinton pointing his finger. Almost none of the things politicians mean to say have staying power. They’re just wispy sentiments and calculated efforts to attract people in the moment, like a bong attracts a pothead.

Granting that political speeches are basically worthless, I’ll still complain about the thing that I hate most about such demagogic piles of goo: the anecdotal personal story. Nothing induces a mental stupor quite like them. To use a fictional example that we might hear from the current convention, imagine a politician at the podium:

The current debate on health care reminds me… of a conversation I had with Shirley McPhee from Solon, OH. She’s a wife and a mother with four kids. Shirley said to me: “My husband is working three jobs and yet we can barely keep our heads above water. My son Eddie has (name your ailment) and it costs us $5000 a day, and we don’t know what to do. We pay our taxes but who benefits? We need to move toward the America of our dreams!” Then Shirley grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye intently, and said: “We need universal health care now! Please, (insert politician)– make it happen!” [Crowd cheers]

This focus on storytelling is even worse in the church. To pastors and “missional” folks enamored with such “dialogue” and warm anecdotes, I say, who cares about your stories? I don’t mean that we shouldn’t know people or sympathize with the plight of fellow sinners, but the church isn’t a therapy group or an avenue for sad-sack egotism. No, we’re bound together because of Christ’s story. THAT’S what I want to hear. Christ and the apostles didn’t go around asking people to tell their stories. They went around telling people what to do. They went around preaching the whole counsel of God, commanding people to repent and believe the Gospel. That’s the Good News, that’s the news that justifies and sanctifies, present and future, for those of us who are strangers and exiles on the earth. (Heb 11:13). Tell that story. Get rid of the goo.

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