Hazel McHaffie

climate change

The power of storytelling

Last year, during lockdown, I did a short online course in oral storytelling. Stories do indeed have a power and appeal of their own, and I’ve personally gained confidence and courage as I’ve used the techniques I learned in various contexts since.

So I was delighted to find a collection of stories told in a fascinating way and used to make important points. It was while listening to an online talk given by philosopher/sociologist/theologian Elaine Storkey, that I heard her reference one of her own books: Women in a Patriarchal World, and I was intrigued enough to order a copy. I expected it to be deeply erudite and scholarly and a one-chapter-at-a-time kind of volume. Not a bit of it! It’s based on her erudition certainly, but presented in a light and eminently accessible form.

Her initial statement, instantly got me – a fellow storyteller – on side:
Storytelling is a powerful form of communication.
Wahey. Tick.
At the very least, it presents us with characters, a location and a plot and invites us to listen in.
I’m listening …
Good storytelling goes much further.
Go on …
It opens up the shared humanity of others so that we get inside their life situation, travel with them and learn from their experiences.

And that’s exactly what her ‘good storytelling’ does. In twenty five chapters she tells the stories of women in the patriarchal world of Bible times – the midwives in the time of Moses, the five daughters of Zelophehad, Rahab the prostitute, Deborah the prophetess, the wise woman of Abel Beth Maakah, Huldah the prophetess, Lydia, Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche, to name but a few. From these stories she draws out compelling lessons for us today; lessons that challenge us to see the issues of our own time, and think about what we could do to alleviate suffering, right wrongs, make the world a safer and kinder place. Every chapter, every story, has a section bringing important issues right up to date – Facing our challenges today, followed by a couple of Questions to ponder.

And those twenty-first century challenges include a wide range of big issues like leadership, oppression, injustice, commitment, resisting wrong, prostitution, nationalism, life and death decision making, morality, risk-taking, infertility, conflict resolution, safeguarding of children, whistle-blowing, climate change, empowerment of women. Impressive, huh?

But also disturbing stuff. What exactly am I doing to address the problems that beset our nation, our world, our time? And where I do ‘dabble’, how can I be more effective?

This writer is indeed a powerful storyteller. She’s also a strong example of someone who lives what she teaches. Multi-talented, esteemed and productive, but with a humility borne of her own deep faith.

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Life’s rich variety

Wow! So much has happened since I wrote last week’s blog.

The prize for most terrifying experience? No dispute. That goes to judging a debating competition down in Exeter – Debating Matters, organised by the Institute of Ideas. On one level it was a treat for me to be that far south because I used to live in the Westcountry many moons ago. But the actual judging …? Hmmm.

The motions for that evening were:
1. An unelected head of state should have no place in 21st Century Britain.
2. Scepticism is crucial to debates about climate change.
3. We should not expect our online activities to remain private.

The debaters were sixth year students and it was our job to judge the quality and range of their arguments, as well as their capacity to defend their position and challenge the opposition, to probe their knowledge and offer constructive criticism. But – and it’s a big BUT – none of these subjects is in my area of expertise, which meant doing a stack of research beforehand and then really, really concentrating on the night. Phew! Talk about moving outside my comfort-zone! It was all so fast-moving. No time to pause and compose a well constructed comment, or think up a clever question. Took me hours to unwind afterwards. And the students thought their nerves were wracked! But hey ho, it’s now safely over. And it’s one experience I will not – definitely, absolutely not – be repeating.

The most satisfying event? Visiting my parents’ grave in Plymouth and, with my brother and sister, choosing a memorial for Mother. Not painful, just a rounding off of the events of this last year. Gentle closure. Balm to my soul after the previous day’s debate.

Most frustrating? Definitely the weather. (A curious corollary to that discussion on climate change, huh!) Despite dire forecasts we travelled the length of the country on Friday without incident, only encountering snow twenty minutes from home. But boy, since then, the heavens have emptied the white stuff over our patch in glorious abandon. Beautiful but causing havoc. Impossible to get out of our drive. Events cancelled right, left and centre. Plans wrecked. Just to give you perspective: somewhere under this mound there’s a chariot – hibernating!

(SORRY: photos from the post have been accidentally deleted)

Most unexpected? Having our daughter and family descend because they’d have been marooned in their own home, and where we live they and we are still able to trudge to a bus stop some of the time, even if we can’t go all personal and exclusive with our own locomotion. Oh and yes, quality time with the grandchildren definitely trumps working all day at the computer.

Most heart-warming? Getting feedback on Nigerian dialogue for my next novel from a nonogenarian friend who lived out there as a young man. I’m awed by his ability to engage so brightly and contribute so generously at this age. And he really worked at the task too, nothing slipshod or superficial. He even read aloud some of the dialogue to sound it out, and it was an amazing feeling hearing my work reproduced so authentically. Blessings on you, Norman. (I really do have some fantastic experiences in this job.)

All in all quite a week.

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