Of Tigers and Storytelling

I come from a long line of storytellers. My great great-uncle on my father’s side was a horse trader and perhaps the biggest liar ever to set foot on Canadian soil. In fact, I think he claimed to have discovered Canada. He liked to tell stories of how he invented the lightbulb and the printing press and green grass. It used to be blue, he said. Like the stuff in Kentucky. I am sometimes asked if my stories are true. They are. If I embellish, I try to make it obvious. I studied to be a preacher, but discovered that when I preached half my audience slipped into a coma. So when I speak, I intersperse enough stories so they don’t realize I’m preaching.

As a kid, I sat in church, counting ceiling tiles and wads of gum beneath the pew while our preacher discussed ecclesiology and predestination. But when he began to tell a story, he had me by the ears. “There once was a small boy,” he said on a Sunday I shall never forget. “The boy had a pet tiger. He fell asleep each night with that tiger lying beside him, licking his hand. One day the boy got a cut on his finger. That night the tiger began licking that finger.” Then the preacher leaned forward. I was barely clinging to the edge of my seat. “Once the tiger got a taste of blood, he couldn’t stop himself. The boy never woke up.”

My eyes were the size of trampolines. Could you tell such a tragic story in church? “That’s just like sin,” the preacher continued. “It begins like a tiny cut on your finger. You think, it’s such a small thing. But the wages of sin is death. Before you know it, sin becomes a tiger. It devours you, fingers and all.” I determined that day never ever to sin again. Which lasted about four minutes. Stories. What I wouldn’t give to travel back in time and hear Jesus tell them. When the crowds gathered, he’d tell tales of buried treasure, runaway sheep and runaway boys. Jesus knew the power of a story. You say, “I’m not a great preacher.” That’s fine. Your story is powerful. Has God changed you? Answered a prayer? Filled you with joy? Tell about it. I assure you, your neighbour, co-worker or friend would rather see a sermon than hear one today.

Years have passed since I first heard that tiger story. And I remember lying in bed that night, eyes wide, when I felt a wet tongue on my hand. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that I had to peal myself off the ceiling. Thankfully, it was just my dog Inky.

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