Quaker Religious Thought


On a frigid December morning in Indiana, a man named Dave Jetmore discovered that his daughter’s pet goat had died. Not wanting to upset his little girl—much less broach the topic of death—Jetmore planned to tell his daughter that “Billy” had simply gone to live somewhere pleasant. Inventing that story was the easy part; the harder part was hiding the body. First, Jetmore tried to bury the goat, but the ground had frozen hard as rock. Next, he had his son fling the body from the pickup to a snowbank, which failed to conceal anything. Time was growing short. And so, with a frozen goat clattering around the back of the truck, Jetmore began driving through the Indiana countryside, pondering solutions. Thus begins the first story ever told at Warp & Woof, a community storytelling event in Richmond, Indiana. While Warp & Woof serves the entire community, it grows from the Ministry of Writing Program at the Earlham School of Religion (ESR), which I direct. Does this mean that drinking beer and telling weird stories with strangers counts as ministry? Well, yes. The reasons why reflect the personal and social power of story, which binds and unbinds us, as individuals and communities, to our “common sense” of reality and to our deepest sources of meaning. It matters, too, that you still want to find out what happened to the goat. Like most creative writing programs, ESR has long approached story as expression, training students in creative processes and craft skills that help them surface stories and tell them well. We have paid less attention to how story is also a tool. Yet extensive literature in the humanities and social sciences document narrative’s power to shape selves and societies, a power that is, in turn, operationalized in politics, marketing, and some forms of therapy and medicine. We speak, for example, of media narratives and political narratives, of racist narratives and anti-racist narratives. All such phrases depend on a foundational observation: story does work. A new course, Applied Storytelling, proceeds from that insight.



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