Why? Well, stories tell us there’s more. They promise, just around the corner, a reality bigger, more magical, than the one we tell ourselves is all there is. Stories offer a peek through the keyhole into possibilities for which we yearn. Could we really hope for that? Think of a story that has magicked you; would you say its characters, its setting, its plot are not ‘real’ in some sense? If something in us did not hope for more, stories would not possess for us such magic. Across time, across continents, people have crafted, told, and listened, wide-eyed to stories. There must be a reason.
Great stories are timeless: in them, we connect to persons across the centuries and across the globe. We sit, entranced, before stories from Kenya, China, Mexico, Italy, from the time of wandering tribes, the age of knights, the eras of the World Wars. These stories reach us because they are our stories. They help us know ourselves and, more than that, to know our connection to a much larger story. We journey, imperiled, toward home in the Odyssey, we are betrayer and betrayed with Cain and Abel, we are the seeking and the sought in “The Lost Sheep.”
Great stories are portable: we take them in and carry them with us to school, work, out to play or to the garden, around our homes, and even into our dreams. Jesus’ parables, composed only of a few sentences—if that many—are handily portable. They’re right there in our pockets just when we need them.
Great stories inspire. And how incredible this is when that story is a pocket-sized parable. And yet Jesus’ parable inspired paintings and sculptures depicting The Good Shepherd from catacombs time till today, a parable inspired Rembrandt’s homey yet luminous painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, and that painting inspired Henri Nouwen’s book of the same name. Jesus’ parables inspired Ken Medema’s tongue-in-cheek song, “Mr. Simon,” and his musical, The Storytelling Man. There must be a reason. Parables provoke us, irritate us like a grain of sand in an oyster, until we wrestle out our own creations from what Jesus planted.
With the Clown series, I hope to celebrate the timeliness and the timelessness, the accessibility and the awesomeness of Jesus’ parables. I’ll be honest: the image of a story-spinning clown whose stories appear within the circle created by juggling balls was given to me, I don’t even recall when. Only later did I discover that the Greek word meaning to throw is a close cousin to the word meaning a parable or a comparison. I love it what that sort of thing happens! God being puckish! So let’s set the juggling balls spinning and step inside a parable. But watch out—there’s life-altering magic in there.