June 27, 2012

Mnemonics and Telling Stories

I learned the notes on the treble clef by remembering, “Every good boy does fine.” I can recall the colors of a rainbow by summoning, Roy G. Biv. And when Pluto was still a planet, I relied on the phrase, “My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” I suppose it ends now with nachos. 

Like many people, these memory tools help jog my memory. That’s why I embraced this mnemonic for telling stories: CHIN. I attended many brown-bag eat-and-learn luncheons at the Cincinnati Enquirer where we talked about the four elements represented by CHIN. After another decade in church work, I think the four components still hold true.

The C stands for context. What are the circumstances surrounding the event or story? This is critical is examining Scripture. For instance, context helps us understand better the biblical prohibition of pork. In the days before refrigeration, eating pork risked trichinosis. Context is critical in explaining finances: is it the first month of a budget shortfall or is it another in a year-long decline? Did the youth mission trip to Appalachia arise from Bible study about helping others or was it part of annual tradition? Context casts light and perspective on an event or situation. 

The H represents human dimension. How does this story relate to my life? Certainly this is important in the study of Scripture and of asking what God is saying to us through a certain passage. But it’s also important in telling stories about our faith. If we don’t talk about our faith from a personal experience, then it’s unlikely to nourish or spark interest in others. We crave the helpful anecdote to connect faith to our personal journeys. 

The I signals impact. What are the consequences of the story? How will it influence the community – or the person? For instance, if you’re sharing news about budget shortfall in a congregation, explaining the impact is critical: Will a continued decline in revenue mean the loss of staff or programs? Does is delay construction on a parking project or roof renovation. 

The final letter of the mnemonic is N. For journalists, the n symbolized the news; for our purposes, I’ve transitioned into thinking about the n as the Good News. What does the Bible say about a situation? How is God moving through and in us? How does our rich tradition inform an emerging future? 

Context. Human dimension. Impact. Good news. If our stories (in newsletters and in witnessing to others) contained these four elements, we would be helping to live out the Gospel imperative of sharing God’s word. 

And frankly, it's not a bad model for preachers too as they craft meaningful, engaging sermons.