Everyone Has A Story and They’re Never Boring: A Guest Post from Mariko Clark

I could not be more excited to introduce you to one of my favorite bloggers in the universe.

Meet my friend, Mariko Clark, the brilliance behind werewolfjesus.com, a blog worth binge-reading. Marri (her pronounceable name) is a wife, mom of the adorable AEIOUda, teacher, friend to envy, cultural critic, and a Christian–working hard to make sense of Jesus and his movement, to help us see Him more authentically. Her blog invites all who read to “drop our religious baggage and follow a more accurate version of Christ.” She is weirdly photogenic as a face and uniquely clever as a writer. French Pressed Fridays has been inspired and sustained by the good news she has to share.

Now I am thrilled to share her craft with you. Enjoy! 

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“I punched him right in the face and kicked him again and again. He ran away screaming that I was an animal…But he never called my sister fat again.”

I am gasping and laughing out loud in my office, listening to Lois tell stories about her feisty younger self.

Lois is the 93 year-old-grandma to one of my students, Jenny. I teach creative writing to high schoolers and I recently gave Jenny’s class the assignment to audio record an interview with a relative over the holidays.

Lois is far and away my favorite interviewee.

Seriously, this woman has the craziest stories. Distant travels and wild love affairs and sass for days. I want to quit my job and be her full-time devotee. I want to watch reality TV with her and hurl insults at the Bachelorettes. I want to hire a camera crew and follow her around for her own reality show.

I’m straight up obsessed with this sassy broad.

At the end of her interview, Lois sobers up and murmurs to Jenny, “thank you for asking me these questions, sweetheart.”

This is something I notice over and over in my students’ recordings. The interviewees are always intensely grateful – often emotionally so. Many of them say that they didn’t think they’d have much to share until they got rolling. They often start out, “Oh, my life is kind of boring.”

But my students and I are learning quickly that everyone has a story and they’re never boring.

We’re learning that stories matter – not just in a “know thyself” type of way, but on a deep and primal level.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It’s my first time teaching and in an effort to really master the subject of storytelling, I’ve been doing endless research and reflection. I could go on and on about the fascinating research on the blueprints for all of the hit novels and screenplays and how they fall into a similar, universal pattern. I could tell you how market sales prove that from the earliest age, humans inexplicably respond to this pattern. How the Bible is written in this pattern. How this pattern can vary on many points but always ends with redemption.

There are so many more blog posts to write on the topic of story. But for this one I will just say that there is undoubtedly a visceral, universal human response to story. It is hardwired in us from the very beginning.

So what does that mean for Christians?

I ask my students this. Jenny is recording Lois’ story as part of a Memoir class at a Christian high school. Memoir is, of course, the creative recollection of one’s own stories, but I created the interview assignment because I’m learning something important about the HONOR in storytelling and I wanted these kids to feel it. I think that in order to tell stories well, you need to appreciate the art of storytelling. To see the honor and the empathy in the asking.

To feel that tug, the human response.

We are a species that is wired to care about story and when we tap into that caring, we find a way of connecting that transcends many of the superficial or polarizing ways that we tend to communicate. The stereotyping and categorizing and offending and shaming? Storytelling, when done right, has the power to dissolve all of that.

There’s so much to say about story, but let’s start small like my students, who have learned these lessons alongside me:

  1. You should tell your story. The ability to tell the world who you are with honesty and vulnerability is a deeply valuable tool.

Any publicist will tell you that there is power in owning the story – good or bad. Because if you don’t tell the world who you are, someone else will. And they won’t get it right. So own your story.

But it’s more than that.

Telling your story like Lois – giving the good the bad and the ugly- is a form of evangelism. Because when you tell your story, you’re telling the story of who Jesus is and what He’s done – with handy, difficult-to-dismiss personal examples! Shauna Niequist sums it up well:

“And when we tell the truth about our lives- the broken parts, the secret parts, the beautiful parts- then the gospel comes to life, an actual story about redemption, instead of abstraction and theory and things you learn in Sunday school.”

Your story benefits you and the people around you. It’s a win-win.

  1. And ask other people about their stories. When you ask someone to tell you their story, you’re honoring them in a way that resonates deep in the bones.

It pricks their humanity. It injects purpose and order into their existence, whether they see it or not. It says, “You are not a random eventuality of days and weeks. You are not a clump of cells meandering through this planet haphazardly. Your days have not been wasted because IF NOTHING ELSE, they have given you a story. And I am here to witness and honor its telling.”

We’re a culture that is aching for connectedness and purpose. Enough with the small talk and the social media superficiality. Be that person who asks the weirdly specific question.

-What is your proudest achievement?

-Who is your hero?

-What’s your mom like?

There are so many resources for this. One of our generation’s hippest storytellers; Brandon Stanton from Humans of New York, often pulls from the Storycorps collection. My students used this method as well with amazing results.

Maybe it will be a little awkward. But I guarantee the response will be a lot more interesting than chit chatting about the weather.

And lastly,

  1. HONOR THE STORIES YOU HAVE NOT HEARD.

Seriously. We need a lot more kindness and respect in days like these.

Mr. Rogers quoted that, ”there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love, once you’ve heard their story.” Impossible as that may seem, Jesus seemed to agree. In fact, He might argue that you should love them before they even tell their story.

So enough with the stereotyping and demonizing and categorizing and dehumanizing.

Enough with all of that.

Every person has a story – a battle they’re fighting, a person they’re missing, a self they’re chasing. To ignore or deny those stories…well, that’s to deny the humanity in that person and in yourself.

The sermon prep in me says I should add “and tell Jesus’ story” as a fourth point. But you know what? His story should play out in all of the above, shouldn’t it? If we’re being honest and loving our neighbors and loving ourselves. A life like that doesn’t make sense without Him.

I have so much more to learn on the topic of story. So many more stories to hear and to tell. But I’ll leave you with the wise words of Lois:

“It’s really very important and very scary to tell the truth…and to straighten other people out when they need it.”

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For more Werewolf Jesus, here are three great posts to get you started:

Wannabe Asian

4 Things I Learned in 4 Years of Marriage

A Letter For Hard Days

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