Recapturing the power of story for a new generation
by Tim Cleary
There are so many diverse, wonderful ways to tell a story. Storytelling began as an oral tradition, passing down family lore, values, beliefs, common heritage … even laughs. Every day we tell each other stories—the story of our day, the story of our lives, a shared horror on the news, the next biggest trend, the animal noises a special one-year-old has started to make.
Stories define us, inspire us, and engage us with one another and the world around us. When we first hear a story, there is a moment of suspension. Children sit, mouths open and eyes wide, hanging on the next word. Why? Because stories compel us.
Storytelling inspires purposeful conversation and motivates people to ask hard questions. According to many educators, storytelling in the classroom enhances and enlivens the delivery of curriculum and engages learners to think about relevant issues. By connecting students to something beyond themselves, storytelling promotes advanced vocabulary, focused reading, imaginative engagement and, ultimately, change.
As Christians, we believe the Bible tells the best story of all. The Bible, although written over many hundreds of years by a diverse array of storytellers, poets, historians, prophets and theologians, tells a complete narrative, starting with the beginning (Genesis) and reaching fulfillment in the end (Revelation). This story is woven through collections of exciting stories, beautiful poetry, detailed history, jubilant prayer, and even heartbroken lament … all strung together to reveal the presence of God in the world and the work of His Son, Jesus. Jesus is the hero of the story, the point to which all the early texts move, and from which all the later texts derive their purpose and meaning. He is the narrative arc, the logical thread, the beginning and the end, the interpretive key, the problem, and the resolution.
Jesus is the story’s goal because He is the ultimate answer to a world in utter turmoil, God’s final declaration of judgment and grace upon broken creation, lost humanity. The Great Author drops small hints and promises all through the story about the Great Gift. Even so, throughout the narrative, it is clear that humanity has a role to play. The invitation is PARTICIPATION, something stories do very well. They allow a reader to take part in the plot, to imagine themselves in light of the story world, and to interpret their realities accordingly.
The tragic reality is, though, that the Bible has failed to capture the imagination of the present culture. How come? One reason is that the very people who love it the most, Christians, have lost or neglected the art of storytelling. Perhaps we’ve lost our love of it, our appreciation of its value. Perhaps our imaginations have been dulled by cynical philosophers, science, or rationality. Or perhaps all of the above. But if stories are used to change minds, engage the whole person, and outpace the influence of alternative views of reality, then the Bible story could be the story that trumps them all. It’s such an audacious story—the redemption of all humanity in the cradle of lost creation because of a God who refused to let go or give up on His beloved people. What a love story! What an adventure that is!
However, this remarkable book has been pushed to the side. We have failed to connect the younger churched people with the compelling words and stories. Instead, other stories have taken priority in young people’s lives. Young people today can simply go on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat to see the latest stories of the day, observing reality from a distance. Technology and media, though useful tools, have become distractions from actual engagement and mindful involvement with everyday people, surroundings, and culture. Thankfully, with the advancement of technology, storytelling has been afforded new ways of reaching these audiences.
It is from this context that a small team from New Zealand created The Aetherlight. The founding non-profit parent organization started mailing Bible lessons 75 years ago out of a commitment to create biblical engagement that advances biblical literacy in a robust and relevant way. The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance is a new frontier in this endeavor, designed to serve today’s families and churches by creating an immersive and fun experience that translates and draws young people to God through His story, as revealed in Scripture and, ultimately, in Jesus. And it goes further … helping these same families understand how to better engage the culture around them in response to their expanding knowledge and engagement with the Bible story.
According to a recent industry study, an estimated 183.5 million Americans spent $25.3 billion on video games in 2009. This means that video games are now bigger than Hollywood. Youth today are expected to spend an average of 44.5 hours a week in front of electronic screens. Children spend more time playing video games during the week than any other activity, other than sleeping. Therefore, video games are now an important medium to engage the next generation, not just to entertain but to educate and invite them into the story of God, a story that is much bigger than themselves. The Aetherlight team and I often say that it is a digital playground where kids can experience the full depth of the Bible story. It’s a space you’ll want your kids to play in.
The Aetherlight was developed with the intention of engaging young people in a fantastic and life-changing story. Today, young people grow up in a world of many competing stories, and they have to decide upon which ones they will base their lives and their understanding of their role in the world. Will it be the story of consumerism? Or perhaps the story of hedonism? Or even the story of nihilism? None of which are sustainable. As Christians, we know that the best story, the most firm foundation, the surest narrative out of which to understand truth, and love, and hope … is the story of a God who created this world out of a loving heart, and, often to His detriment, refused to let go so that He might bring that world into the fullness of what it is to encounter Him, to live alongside Him, to have unbroken communion with Him. What a story! A story worth telling, in whatever ways we can, over and over so that we never forget.
By playing The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance, children can experience the story of the Bible and begin to understand the grand narrative it tells.
My hope is that we would all experience the Scriptures more fully so that our own lives, and the lives of young people around the world, might be forever shaped by the most compelling story of all.
Tim is the key driver behind The Aetherlight in-game story and accompanying products. He speaks regularly about those things that matter to him—the stories that shape cultures and the media that carry them. @timcleary, theaetherlight.com