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What does it take to SEE Jesus? (John 20:19-31)

A previous post–updated!

Each year on the second Sunday of Easter we encounter the story of Thomas. This year the story seems especially important. Will we let fear and doubt be our primary narratives, or will we learn to tell a different story?


John 20:19-31
as told by Casey FitzGerald


A great way to start remembering the story as an adult and to help children get the basics is to break it down to the main points. Yes, the details are very important…but you will be able to tell the story with much more confidence (and remember it better) if you know the key parts. This is akin to naming “episodes,” but with full descriptive sentences.

For the younger set: You may want to learn the story summaries in parts. To begin, just learn the initial appearance. If I were breaking it up into a child-friendly summary, it might look something like this:

  • Jesus had been killed
  • The disciples locked themselves in a house because they were afraid.
  • Jesus appeared in the locked room!
  • He said, “Peace be with you.”
  • The disciples rejoiced because Jesus was ALIVE!

Before learning the “abridged” version, be sure to read/tell the whole section/story aloud so that they can hear it from you first. HERE is a link to the story from GoTell Communications. After reading/telling the whole story, learn the simple version. See if they can repeat the story. See if they can remember what was left out in the simple version (i.e., showing his hands and side).

seeing JESUS

This is one of my all-time favorite stories. It was the first that I recorded for my certification through the Academy for Biblical Storytelling. I thought about showing you that recording and letting you compare, but I’m not quite ready for that yet. Let’s just say I moved around…A LOT. I most recently told it at the 2015 NEXT Church national gathering.

There are so many reasons to love this story. Though it’s often called the “doubting Thomas” story, it is clear that the other disciples also doubted. The other disciples also had to SEE to believe. (They don’t actually recognize Jesus until he shows them his wounds: he showed them his hands and his sides–THEN the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.)

I love the ending commentary of the story:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book.
But these are written so that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God,
and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Though we don’t see Jesus in the way that the disciples did in that locked house…it just might be that we see him when we hear and tell the stories. These stories of Jesus are the means through which we have LIFE.

So GO and TELL!

in a room filled with fear

A story from last year (2014):

A few months ago, I got a call in my office from the administrative assistant–“Don’t leave, we are on lock-down.” In the late morning, a beloved woman in the church neighborhood received a knock on her door and was gunned down by a stranger. So we were on lock-down. It happened that the lock-down was enforced just minutes before the release of our weekday preschool. Parents waited in locked cars in our parking lot. Kids sheltered in dark bathrooms. Our teachers made instant transformations into heroes. And we waited…locked in the church. Police with dogs and guns came, searching the building as their colleagues searched the neighborhood. Rumors of ties to other unsolved local murders swept twitter-feeds and the news outlets. It was scary at the time, but perhaps more scary in the days following…especially for our parents.

Lying in bed that night, I was trying to imagine what story I would tell myself and the members of my church (many of whom reside in this neighborhood, many of whom knew and loved the victim). I thought about the parents in the parking lot…how afraid they must have been…and how, because the murderer had not (and has not) been caught, I could not offer them easy assurances. The threat still seemed to loom. That’s when I remembered this story from John. The disciples had real reasons to be afraid. Their leader had been crucified. They were under threat of similar persecution. They were mourning and fearful. So they locked themselves in a house and tried to regroup. In the midst of this fear and sorrow, Jesus entered with the gift of peace…and everything changed. Actually, nothing on the outside changed. They still had every reason to fear the authorities. Yet, in that moment when they saw the risen Lord, they were freed from the bonds of fear. Jesus’ appearance re-framed their story. The details are mostly the same, but the way that they saw the world was forever changed. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said…and they rejoiced.

I told myself the story a few times that week. In simple ways I told it to a number of members. Seeing the risen Lord has the power to re-frame all of our stories.

May the peace of Jesus Christ enter into every fear-filled room in which you find yourself.


The story of the EPIPHANY

Revisiting the Epiphany Story

Before you begin with the story-watching/learning process, check out this beautiful song by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, musician, Psalm scholar and liturgical theologian! His gift to us this Epiphany. You can see/hear more of Richard’s work at Worldmaking Publishing and Psalm Immersion –or hear his wonderful weekly segment on the Pulpit Fiction Podcast!



Matthew 2:1-12
As told by Elizabeth Adkisson



HOMAGE–What does it mean to “pay homage”? To pay homage is to pay respect. The wise men wanted to go to find Jesus to show him respect and honor him. Do you think King Herod really wanted to find baby Jesus to “pay him homage”? In what ways did the magi (the “wise men”) pay him homage? How would you or have you paid someone homage?

EPIPHANY This story is called the story of the “Epiphany.” An “epiphany” is an appearance–often an incredibly special one. On January 6, we celebrate the Epiphany (appearance) of Jesus Christ to the Magi (wise men).


For all ages:

***What makes someone wise? Who are the wise men and women that you know today? Who are the wise people in the world?

***Get out your “nativity set” (it can be an actual nativity set or just about any kind of moveable objects)! Since most nativity sets don’t have Herod (he’s not the most popular guy), find something to play Herod. Got a Darth Vader figure, great! Even a salt shaker will do. Be creative! As Ms. Adkisson’s story plays, have your family play out the Epiphany scene. (You can also read another version of the story here.) Then try to tell it yourself as you move the pieces around. (What parts of the story did you remember? What was left out?) manger4

For the older set:

***If I were telling this story, in order to connect with Herod, I might think about a time I struggled with jealousy (fear that something I have will be taken away by someone else). Recall a story of jealousy from your own life.

***Later in Matthew, Jesus says this: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:25) Are you worried about what might be taken away from you (or what you might have to give up) in order to follow God? Tell a story about a time you gave something up to follow God–or witnessed someone else make a sacrifice to follow God.

Improv Wisdom

I begin 2016 with a great joy–getting to participate in an improv class through Washington Improv Theater. I have always loved theater and improv, but have not taken formal classes since I was in school. I have wonderful friends who are doing serious work on the theology of improv–check their blogs out here and here. I am particularly interested in the ways improv can aid us in going deeper into the biblical stories and our stories. While I hope to post more on the connection between improv and storytelling/learning, it strikes me that today’s story involves a great deal of improv on the part of the wise men.

One of the first rules of improv is to say, “YES”–to agree to the situation presented to you, and to move on from there. Much like in life, especially when life throws us unexpected circumstances which force us to be flexible and adjust, for improv to “work,” one must be willing to enter in to what is being offered. The brilliant Tina Fey has a great description of “Yes, AND” in her book, Bossypants:

The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if you say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You ________!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun….

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own…. To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.

In what ways do you see the wise men saying, “yes” to the circumstances presumably unusual circumstances unfolding before them?

How to Dress for a Manger Visit

“Our Christmas Story: Intergenerational Story-Learning” will be released tomorrow (a day later than expected)…but that doesn’t mean I can’t give you a great idea for this Advent/Christmas with the family (or in church) TODAY….
Actually, it’s not my idea at all–it comes from a wonderful member of my congregation–and I will let Lauren tell you all about it!

Becoming the Nativity Set:
A Family Tradition

My parents bought their first nativity set in 1972—an East German carousel-like set with a fan blade that rotates with the heat of several small candles. Since then, their collection has grown to more than 150 nativity sets, each unique. The scenes come in every style imaginable—made from stone, glass, yarn, eggs, repurposed fence posts, bamboo, metal, quilled paper, yucca plants—and range from petite tabletop sets with three pieces, to elaborate scenes made with 15 or more figurines the size of small dolls. Each Christmas, my parents retrieve their hundreds of nativity boxes from the basement, and my dad, a retired Presbyterian pastor, meticulously arranges each in their appropriate spot.

While my brother and I were visiting my parents at Christmastime a few years ago, my dad, who has a terrifically goofy way about him sometimes, stopped in the TV room carrying an oversized basket filled with oranges and, in a French accent, asked us if we wanted any fruit. At that moment, I said, “Dad! You look just like someone in our French Santon nativity!” And moments later, a tradition was born. …We could be IN the nativity!

Thinking quickly, I (still in my PJs) ran upstairs to get my camera and found an old St. Lucia apron my parents had saved; my mom pulled up close to my great grandmother’s antique spinning wheel; we found Dad a chapeau; and my brother donned a stocking cap and walking stick. My brother then photoshop-ed us in to the already arranged set. Here was the result:

2010- French Santon nativitySantons2010

2011– Maine Nativity


2012- Nativity from the American South West

2012 American South West Nativity

2013- A rolled newspaper nativity from Vietnam


Over the years we’ve gotten more creative with costuming… and official with the “green screen.” We do try to re-purpose “props” from what we already have in the house. It’s a riot coming up with ideas for which set to do next.

I love this tradition–even if you don’t have 150 nativity sets, you could certainly find pictures online to imitate. If you do…post them here or on the Faith and Wonder Facebook page!

Advent & Christmas at Faith and Wonder: DETAILS!

Advent Storytelling

A Summary of What’s to Come…

There is much to choose from this Advent at Faith and Wonder–check out the offerings below and to see how you, your family, or your church might engage with the stories of God this Advent and Christmas!

Tales from the Jesse Tree: An Advent Podcast Series (Begins December 1st)

Stories from the Jesse Tree (1)**5 days a week of audio storytelling beginning December 1st
**Features stories from the Jesse Tree–including some traditionally left off the branches (ehem…the women’s stories)
**Each episode will include a personal storytelling prompt
**A terrific Advent practice (Episodes will generally be less than 10 minutes in length…as for your own stories…take your time!)


I am hoping to have it up on iTunes…still awaiting some technical changes to make that happen!







THE NUT SHOP (1)Christmas By Heart: 12 Days of Story-Learning (Begins Dec 1st)

This video story-learning workshop is aimed at learning Luke 2:1-20 and includes:

**”Tips for Telling” with Communications Coach Ann Timmons
**”Behind the Scenes” with the Rev. Dr. D. Mark Davis
**Basic storytelling activities for learning Luke 2 by heart

Though Luke 2 is one of the most familiar stories in scripture, working towards telling it by heart will no doubt reignite your understanding and connection with the story!



Our Christmas Story Our Christmas Story: Story Learning Activities for All Ages
(Release Date: November 17)

**Activities for individuals, families, or church groups to facilitate learning the birth story
from Luke 2.
**Pick and choose from various experiences to cater to yourself/family/group
**Make plans to tell the Christmas story for/with loved ones on Christmas morning!!!


Ten Reasons for Storytelling the Bible in Worship

Thanks to Tim Coombs for this list! He is an awesome storyteller–biblical and otherwise. He does “A Christmas Carol” by himself!!! Check out his website:

The wait is over…almost.

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog as of late, but I am excited to report that the wait is over…almost. I am busy working on a new installment of video-learning/telling experiences centered around the birth narrative from Luke 1-2…or, as my friend Becca Messman calls them, stories that’ll make your baby-bump jump.*  **

Looking for a way to engage yourself, your family, or your congregation during Advent?
Always wanted to learn the Christmas story by heart?

This 4-week experience is for you!

There will be a number of ways to engage, so stay tuned….

Advent Storytelling

*Actual baby-bump-jumping story can be found HERE.
**Actual baby-bump not necessary for engaging in this Advent series.

Left Behind? Jesus as the boy in the Temple


Luke 2:41-52
as told by children and their grown-ups
filmed and edited by Alex Bryant

We played this video today in Sunday worship to give folks a taste of what has been happening on Wednesday nights. This story was paired with 1 Samuel 16:1-13, the story of the boy David’s anointing–as told by an amazing storyteller in our church (one of a number who’ve helped lead worship this Lent). Both are stories of children being left behind. I am grateful to be in a church that seeks out intergenerational experiences and desires to deepen these relationships. As always, there is more work to be done!


I continue to be amazed as my children seek out these videos again and again. They are learning them by heart.

*If you watch this with children, encourage them to engage with the stories by asking questions and telling you what they heard. Tell each other stories of “getting lost” as a way of discussing what it must have felt like to be 1) Jesus’ parents and 2) Jesus himself. Once you have watched it a number of times, try retelling it in your own words. What are the most important parts of the story? Here is a link to the text: Luke 2:41-52 from GoTell. If you want to go deeper, read Tom Boomershine’s written commentary on the story. Or, listen to Dennis Dewey’s audio version–how is his telling different?

Paul the Romantic?


1 Corinthians 13:1-13
as told by Casey FitzGerald

Here is a copy of the text: 1 Corinthians 13 1to13

the BACKstory

Though this passage is read at most weddings, it is not, in fact, specifically meant for romantic entanglements. Paul is speaking about the kind of love that is from GOD. (Of course, in marriages we are given a great opportunity to exercise such a love.*) Paul was writing to a church community facing many divisions. They were attempting to follow God and fight with each other at the same time. Many of them thought that if they separated they would be better off. Paul was trying to urge them to stay together–to explain to them that acting out of love was more important than any other issue they were facing.

The kind of love Paul refers to is not easy. It is not the kind of love one “falls” into–it is a love of choice and commitment. It is the deep and faithful love God has for us. It is the deep and faithful love we are called to have for one another.


When I tell this “by heart,” I choose to speak the words and intone their meaning as I do…in other words, when I say arrogant, I try to say it arrogantly. I often do this when storytelling, as it helps those who do not understand specific words to understand their meaning. Even if this is not the way YOU would choose to tell it, try the following exercise as you learn the passage:

Say these words/phrases aloud while trying to convey their meaning with your voice and body:

insist on its own way
bears all things
believes all things
hopes all things
endures all things


For all ages: Tell a story about a time you knew you were loved. (What happened? How did you know? How did it make you feel? Did you act differently because of it?)

For the older set: Tell a story about a time you chose love over conflict.


*A word of caution: This text should not be used to encourage people to remain in abusive relationships. Remember: Paul highlighted what love does NOT look like. Love is not abusive. If you or someone you love is suffering abuse, please seek help.

Paul the Humorist?


Before watching the video below, read Paul’s words to the church in Corinth (from 1 Corinthians 1:10-17).

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 

What I mean is that each of you says,
“I belong to Paul,”
or “I belong to Apollos,”
or “I belong to Cephas,”
or “I belong to Christ.”

Has Christ been divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas;
beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel,
and not with eloquent wisdom,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.


1 Corinthians 1:10-17
as told by Ron Coughlin at the Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers ’13

But that’s not a STORY!!!

Any scripture can be told “by heart”–even Paul’s letters. In fact, most of the people to whom Paul wrote could not read–they relied on someone reading the letter aloud. Think about the difference in the experience of reading the letter to yourself and then hearing Ron tell it by heart.


For all ages:

The Corinthian church was filled with people who were very different–and had different thoughts about how to be the church. Paul wanted them to be UNITED in their faith. In order to get a sense of how Paul felt, tell a story about a time you tried to help people get along. (My mother used to request only one thing for Christmas every year–peace in the family. Perhaps I should call her and get her to tell me a story!)

For the older set:

From Ron’s telling, what can you surmise about the Corinthian church?

What are the ways in which today’s church experiences such divisions? Tell a story about church/faith division…then begin to tell this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.