My earliest introduction to faith was through stories. My
mother’s flannel-graph stories, told at Daily Vacation Bible School, and my
parents’ nightly reading from Hurlbut’s
Story of the Bible were early and formative. (Hurlbut’s is now available on Amazon, with an updated, stylish
cover.) At some point, books featuring missionary adventures began filling our
living room bookcase. “Through Gates of Splendor,” about Jim Elliot, a family
friend martyred in Ecuador, was especially moving.
Stories have lasting power. Even now if you asked about a
recently-heard sermon I’d be hard pressed to remember the main points. But
stories told in sermons can be remembered for decades. In his article “Living
into God’s Story,” Eugene Peterson writes about why “story” is a major means of
bringing us God’s word:
“Story doesn’t just tell us something and leave it there;
story invites our participation. A good storyteller gathers us into the story.
We feel the emotions, get caught up in the drama, identify with the characters,
see into nooks and crannies of life that we had overlooked, realize there is
more to this business of being human than we had yet explored, If the storyteller is good, doors and
windows open. Our Biblical storytellers were good, in both the moral and
aesthetic sense of them.”
For some years now I’ve been teaching a fall semester NCB/GTU class called “Writing Your Journey.” Each year I have the privilege of listening in on how God is at work in the lives of students. In writing about their lives, students explore their own histories and discover patterns and meanings they may not have been aware of.
In each class I also write and read stories about my own
life and find that writing brings new understanding. As we learn more about
each other, the classes become communities. The stories of classmates may bring
new insights into our own story, and there is something healing about feeling
Here are a few recent comments on the class:
the weeks I’ve worked through some of my deepest and most vexing spiritual
difficulties. It has been incredibly timely in my journey and appeared exactly
when I needed it.
course pushed me to do some valuable work thinking and writing about weighty
themes and how God has been at work in my life.
For many years now my personal story has been entwined with
that of New College Berkeley. I was on the founding board and chaplain of the
first summer school (our guest speaker for the week was Bruce Metzger, a
Biblical scholar who chaired the Committee on Translators for the NRSV.)
After working as Associate Director of New College Berkeley
for some years, I’m now stepping down from that administrative position. This
will create more time in my life for projects that have long been on hold. I’ll
continue as a faculty member of New College and look forward to this fall’s
“Writing Your Journey” class. Each year brings new students, each class has its
own flavor, and each time of writing and listening brings new insights into
God’s story and my own.
Sharon Gallagher is Professor of Christianity and the Media
at New College Berkeley and editor of Radix magazine.