The power of story to change lives, described by Dr. Audrey West
In a few words, Dr. Audrey West summed up the fears and the concerns of many of her listeners about the state of the church today.
“People are telling those of us committed to Christ that it is just not working anymore,” she said. “The church and its people in all settings are greatly challenged. The culture is changing all around us. The church no longer holds the same authority it once did. In the midst of conflict and anxiety we wonder what the right way is out of this mess. What should we do? We ask, will our children have a faith…Will our faith have children?”
She noted that the early church “has been there before.”
Then in a riveting hour-plus, West, a self-described “theological mutt” (raised in the Presbyterian Church USA, a Lutheran half of her life and married to a Moravian) told family stories, unpacked in great and careful detail the Parable of the Yeast in Matthew and used personal examples of story-telling episodes involving her niece and nephew to empower her audience to carry on the story-telling history of their faith in a way that has the potential to change lives.
West is a one-time Professor of New Testament at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She earned her BS at the University of California-Davis, her MDiv. and STM at Yale Divinity School and her PhD at Duke University. West was lecturing on the overarching theme for Inaugural Lectures and Resource Day December 8, the day after the installation of her friend David J. Lose as the twelfth president to serve The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP). That theme was “Faith Formation and the Future of the Church.” She was the first lecturer for the day. Luther Seminary Professor Dr. Andrew Root spoke in the afternoon.
West especially focused on the idea of “the role of story as faith formation.”
She made it clear that the modern predicaments of cultural pressures, low numbers, and limited resources are the same demons that confronted the early church.
“The stories of our lives are revelatory about our characters,” West said after relating some anecdotes about her own mother. “They do a lot for us… Some of the truths they tell we might not want to hear or be able to hear in another. Some truths may be painful and difficult.” Family stories help us understand who we are and can shape the understanding of our particular family.
Biblically, she talked about the Exodus story as revealing what God desires for God’s people. “God desires freedom and says no to oppression,” she explained. In Pharoah’s hard heart, she said it becomes clear “how easy it is for earthly power to become corrupted.”
She taught about how each of the four narrative Gospels use different stories at the outset “to set up the rest of the narrative in a slightly different key” that the writers then carry forward in their own words. In “unpacking” the parable of the yeast in Matthew, she taught of the importance of those in a faith community to put “all of your collective retellings together” to make sense of a biblical story or parable.
“We have a lot of stories to tell,” West said of the believing community. “The world today will try to tell you that other stories are more important, that some people are worth less than others. But that is not God’s story. We must not be afraid, not let fear keep us from telling our stories together.
“You have the story to tell to this world. The world needs this Gospel. It has the power to affect even those people who have never heard it before. Thank you for sharing the story that because God so loves the world not even the cross can destroy us, Jesus, or God. Go tell the story. Now is the day.”
Listen and watch as Dr. Audrey West reveals the power of story and storytelling through her anecdotes from her family and her scriptural teaching.