I grew up in the Bay Area of Northern California. It’s a very diverse area. In fact, the statistics for the city I just moved from (and where I raised my children) said 75% of city residents were not born in America. That is an International upbringing without ever leaving America! (Though my kids did get to travel the world with their grandfather.) Sheesh, I remember being excited to go and look at my grandfather’s wooden bridge that he built in Menlo Park because we got ice cream afterwards! I thought that was travel!
Living Internationally is one reason I love story. When you, as a Christian, are the minority, you learn to be very aware of how you speak to people with different backgrounds and cultures. Story allows the conversation to begin. When Jesus spoke in parables, He could illustrate the truth without being offensive. At one point in my daughter’s classroom, a parent was going to talk about the Hindu god Ganesh. If you don’t know the story, it’s about a man who sets off into the world and his head is replaced by that of an elephant. My daughter went to a party during this season and she came home and informed me that you cannot eat in front of Ganesh, so you have to leave the room if you want to eat at the party. (Good to know!) She must have been about six at the time and she said that she was glad she could just pray to Jesus and eat.
That same year, not long after this holiday, I asked if I could tell the children about Christmas. Since we had celebrated Ganesh in class. And to be honest, I never minded. We had all religions in the public school and I did not mind my kids being taught about that because I knew they knew their Truth. And Jesus’s story stands up because it is truth. But the school wouldn’t let me tell the story of Jesus. It was “offensive.”
Honestly, that only encouraged me. The truth always comes out, it rises to the top like cream. So even though I didn’t get to tell the story that day, I get to tell the story of Him in my work. I get to hide it in story with humor wrapped around it. One of the best letters I ever got from a reader was from college students who used my book “What a Girl Wants” as a tract to start a conversation. Their friend became a Christian and God used my story to start that discussion. Isn’t story amazing?
I’m currently rewriting decades’ old novels and it’s interesting to see how we’ve gotten so sensitive to culture differences that people are afraid to write about them. Two of my stories I’m working on, one takes people during the time of Californios — it’s a heyday for Calfornian-born Mexicans under Mexican rule with the Americans and Spaniards coming for them. In the meantime, they used the Native Americans as serfs on the land. Okay, in this climate, that’s a rough story, but it was the truth. Their time was much like the old south with slavery as its ugly reality to the beautiful life for a few.
The other book is about a prodigal who leaves Natchez, Mississippi before the Civil War and comes home afterward for his southern belle. Could I make things tougher on myself? But story is like humor. It doesn’t resonate if it’s not true. So while we may be facing some harsh truths today, they are still truth. And there’s room for everyone’s story to be told. Just like Jesus could tell his followers some harsh realities by using story, we can do the same.
“The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand. Matthew 13:10-13