Since the movie version of Katheryn Stockett’s novel The Help is coming to theaters this Wednesday (August 10), I wanted to take a minute today to talk about the power of story and narrative.
I have a particular interest in this theme. I was always a literature person (I maxed out my lit credits at Sarah Lawrence), and at Candler I was able to continue an interest in literature and theology (thanks to Carol Lakey Hess, Ellen Marshall, and Joy McDougall). To make a long story short, I think that narrative and storytelling can have huge implications for theological reflection and religious practice. I think that people identify and connect with stories — their own stories; fictional stories; the real-life stories of others. Narrative has enormous power to move us, to make us rethink assumptions, to make us more engaged, to empower us. Storytelling, both written and oral, has so far been explored in fields as diverse as ethics, religious education, pastoral counseling, dialogue between religious faiths, peacebuilding efforts, and more. For example, the CNN religious blog posted an essay on storytelling this weekend. You can find the story here: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/07/my-faith-how-storytelling-saved-my-life/?iref=obnetwork.
I am interested in storytelling in many of the above mentioned theological settings. My unique interests are in the field of religious education and fiction, particularly how literature can be used in church settings to explore theological issues. My M.Div. thesis, which I have posted on the new page “Academics,” explored the idea of using book clubs in churches as a vehicle for the religious education of women. The Help holds a special place in my heart because it is the novel I used as a model for the type of work that could be done in such a setting.
The Help also profoundly uses the theme of storytelling itself, as a novel that not only tells a story few have hard before, but as a novel that uses storytelling as a connection between characters and voices. The women in the book are writing a “book-within-a-book,” based on the African-American maids telling their life stories — and the stories of their employers — to the protagonist of the novel. Throughout the novel, we see how rich life is when women share their stories.
In honor of the movie’s release — where I hope even more people will be exposed to the power of storytelling — I have posted the lesson plans I created for a women’s book group to read The Help together. You can find a link to the lesson plans on the new page “Lesson Plans.” It is my hope that someone will be able to use them! (If you do, I’d love to hear about it. )