Picture Work - Part 2

Part 2

4. All good stories have unity; parts well subordinated; the main lesson unmistakably clear; the point, whether tactfully hidden or brought out by skilful questions, never missed.

This use of stories by exactly reproducing them is naturally the teacher's first method. There follow naturally the _adaptation_ of stories and the making of _original_ stories. The latter way must be dismissed with a single word of caution. Beware of a certain fatal facility in reeling off "made-up" stories. Have you not heard such teachers and such stories? The latter at least are not true, or healthy, or wholesome. They are about unreal people who do unnatural things. They are a poor, ragged device for covering the nakedness of barefaced moralizing.

No one who has tried to tell Bible stories to children, whether young or old, can fail to appreciate the need of adaptation: of enrichment and expansion on the one hand, of condensation on the other. Suppose the story to be told is the parable of the Good Samaritan. There must first be preliminary work. The minds of the children must be made ready, not merely for the lesson, as, for example, by a talk on the meaning of "neighbor," but also for the story. This latter kind of preparation for three reasons:

1. To give your hearers something of the same knowledge about the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the relations of Jews and Samaritans, the standing and dignity of high priests and Levites possessed by those who heard the parable from the lips of Jesus.

2. To give the setting of the story--time, place, people, customs, atmosphere.

3. To make the language, the steps, the moral, as intelligible to your hearers as they were to the young lawyer to whom the story was first told.

The need of the first way of filling in the picture is brought out by Mrs. Gaskoin in the "Children's Treasury of Bible Stories," Part III.:

"Pages might be written about this parable, for every line is full of teaching, wrapped in beautiful words. But my object just now is only to draw your attention to the circ.u.mstance that the third person who pa.s.sed the wounded man--and the only one who cared about his sufferings and took pains to relieve them--was a Samaritan. On this the point of the story turns. First a priest, and then a Levite, whose very offices alone should have made them ready helpers, had shunned their poor countryman, and had pa.s.sed on without even a word of sympathy. But the person who did pity him, and, indeed, showered kindnesses upon him, was, not only neither priest nor Levite, not only a mere stranger--but a Samaritan. Now to say this was the same thing to the "lawyer" who was listening to the tale as to say that he was an enemy. The Lord could have chosen no stronger expression; in using it he spoke quite as plainly as when, once before, his words had been these: 'I say unto you which hear: Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you!' Clearly, then, it is only by understanding how the Jews felt toward the Samaritans, that we can grasp what the blessed Savior meant when he said that every disciple of his must love his 'neighbor' as himself."

A striking example of the mode of using a full knowledge of customs and people to enrich the story is given by the same author in the following vivid word-picture of the thrilling experience of Zacharias. After describing the method of choosing by lot the priests to take charge of the temple services, the narrative continues:

"To Zacharias, however, one autumn, the coveted lot did fall, and leaving his quiet home, he went up to Jerusalem, and there entered at once upon his sacred duties. They lasted for eight days, including two Sabbaths.... Every morning at nine o'clock, and every afternoon at three, a priest entered the Holy Place to sprinkle the incense-offering on the golden altar. He was accompanied by an a.s.sistant priest, who withdrew as soon as he had made the necessary preparations. The privilege of sprinkling the incense-offering, like the other priestly functions, was bestowed by lot. One day, during his week of attendance in the Temple, the lot fell upon Zacharias. So, in his white robes, with bare feet and covered head, he went slowly up, through court after court, to the entrance of the Holy Place. Then a bell rang, all the other ministrants on duty in the Temple took their places, and the people a.s.sembled in the various courts composed themselves for prayer. Zacharias disappeared within the sacred enclosure, and in due course his attendant left him alone there, separated from the Holy of Holies itself only by the splendid Veil-of-Part.i.tion. Silvery clouds of fragrant smoke presently arose from the kindled incense--then, kneeling before the altar, he paused, in prayer and adoration.

Suddenly he became aware that he was not alone. Lifting his eyes he saw, to the right of the altar, a glorious angel, who thus addressed him, dispelling his gathering fear: 'Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.' ... 'Whereby shall I know this?' he asked, hesitatingly. And the angel, answering, said unto him, 'I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of G.o.d, and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings. And behold thou shalt be dumb and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.'

"Meanwhile the people were anxiously waiting for Zacharias to return. His reappearance would be the signal for the laying of the sacrifice upon the altar, accompanied by a joyous outburst of the beautiful Temple music. Great, then, was their uneasy wonder at the unusual delay. But at last he did appear."

An ill.u.s.tration of what is meant by re-telling the old story in a modern way for modern hearers is found in the following characteristic extract from a sermon of Dr. Parkhurst's on the text, "And he arose and came to his father":

"The prodigal had not enjoyed nearly as much as he expected--what he had arranged to enjoy. His scheme had collapsed; his experiment broken down. Going away from home and living as though he had no home had not worked as he expected that it was going to. Lonely, ragged, hungry, he thought the thing all over and said to himself: 'I think I had better go home.' He had let go of home, but home had declined to let go of him. He had been his father's boy for twenty years or more, and his experience in the far country had not been quite able to cure him of it. Home still had a pull upon him."

While many of the stories both of the Old and of the New Testament need expansion rather than contraction--think of trying to bring the masterly story of Jonah or the wonderfully simple tale of the Shunemite's son into any smaller compa.s.s!--yet the need of condensing the long stories, of Abraham, Joseph, David, Daniel, for instance, is obvious, for we must give the children a picture of the whole life and character of these great and simple figures. To this end selection and suppression are necessary.

The various books mentioned in a later chapter are all more or less successful in the attempt to recast the old original story. So perfect is the original form, however, that the task is one of extreme difficulty. Yet it must be attempted by every teacher, and it is certainly worth a trial. The following suggestions may prove helpful in both modes of adaptation:

1. Use direct discourse. It will require an effort to keep yourself (in your embarra.s.sment) from taking refuge behind the indirect form, saying, for example, "And when he came to himself he said _that he would_ arise and go to _his_ father and tell him _that he had_ sinned."

2. Choose actions rather than descriptions, the dynamics rather than the statics of your subject. Those of us who have grown away from childhood tend to reverse the true order, to place the emphasis on the question, "What kind of a man was he," and not on, "What did he do."

Let what he did tell what he was. Your story will thus have "go," as all Bible stories have.

3. Use concrete terms, not abstract; tell what was done, not how somebody felt or thought when something was being done; be objective, not subjective.

4. A story-teller should, in short, have taste. To form this taste it is indispensable that he should not read, but _drink in_ the great masters: Homer, Chaucer, Bunyan, Hawthorne ("The Wonder Book," for example), and above all the Bible itself. No one can absorb these without unconsciously forming a pure, simple style and getting a more childlike point of view and way of speech. Modern writers and modern ways of thinking are, in general, too reflective, self-conscious, subjective, and, where children are concerned, too direct, bare, "preachy."

5. But the secret of story-telling lies not in following rules, not in a.n.a.lyzing processes, not even in imitating good models, though these are all necessary, but first of all in being _full_--full of the story, the picture, the children; and then, in being morally and spiritually up to concert pitch, which is the true source of power in anything. From these comes spontaneity; what is within must come out; the story tells itself; and of your fulness the children all receive.

Finally, the points of practical story-telling may be thus outlined:

1. See it. If you are to make me see it you must see it yourself.

2. Feel it. If it is to touch your cla.s.s it must first have touched you.

3. Shorten it. It is probably too long. Brevity is the soul of story-telling.

4. Expand it. It is probably meager in necessary background, in details.

5. Master it. Practice. Repet.i.tion is the mother of stories well told; readiness, the secret of cla.s.ses well held.

6. Repeat it. Don't be afraid of re-telling a good story. The younger the children are, the better they like old friends. But every one loves a "twice-told tale."




One of the greatest of American preachers never goes beyond "firstly."

He makes but one point in each sermon. But he makes that point, drives it home, burns it in, wears a crease in the brain that nothing can ever iron out. Every picture--and those sermons are full of pictures--bears upon that one point, and every argument and lesson, for which the pictures have been laying the foundation, is a part of the same unity.

You never hear him say, "And we learn further," but always, "The same truth comes out in another way." One is never more than two bases away from the home plate. It is not a cross-country run, but a game of score and tally.

At the opposite pole from this intensive method is the typical Sunday-school lesson. The typical Sunday-school lesson is--is it not?--hodge-podge. Does the last lesson always bear upon the lesson of to-day? Is to-day's aim single? Do you hold before your mind the one point, the one picture, that your pupils shall carry away with them as an everlasting possession, or do you have in mind to display so many pictures, so many points, that some must needs take effect?

It is easier--at least it is lazier--to provide _many things_ than to prepare _much_. One can rake over an acre more easily than dig one post-hole. And the deeper you go the harder grows the digging. But it's the last six inches of hole that makes firm the top two feet of post.

Now pictures help toward unity of aim in a lesson in two ways: they help to elaborate the one main point--twenty ill.u.s.trations of one point, not twenty points from one ill.u.s.tration; they help to teach us the law of unity, for a true picture has but one theme, is always simple.


"The great trouble with the stuff taught in our schools is that so much of it always remains _stuff_, and never gets worked up into _boy_." So said Dr. Parkhurst, in a sermon from the text, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." The only way to work up the raw materials of a boy into real boy is to bring him into touch with them, to have him taste, see, handle. But in order to be tasted these materials must be real. And to make them real is the first duty of the teacher. It is also his hardest task. For consider what it costs to make a thing so real to yourself that it can't help being real to some one else! Ah! there's the rub. It costs to do that--costs time, pains, life.

How long did the Lord make Ezekiel lie on his left side, and how long on his right side, without the relief of turning over from one side to the other, before he judged him ready to deliver his message with a due sense of the reality of its import? Three hundred and ninety days "for the iniquity of the house of Israel," forty days more "for the iniquity of the house of Judah"; each day for a year. After that there was no lack of a "realizing sense" in Ezekiel. He had "been there" himself.

And was it by way of mere luxury or was it from pedagogical necessity that the Lord showed himself last of all to Paul also, and sent him into the desert, for a year or more, to think it over and get a real grip on the experience? It was a true instinct that made Thomas, the doubting one, want to reinforce a sight-picture by a touch-picture. A dose of the same "doubt" would be a tonic to much of the pale "faith"

in the world.

When I was a boy I wrote, after the fashion of the day, an "essay" on a subject about which I had the slenderest knowledge. A tannery lay on my way to school, and the tanner would have been friendly and communicative, but the encyclopedia article, "Leather," was my sole authority. You may imagine the result: a cold, dead thing, not in the least savoring of real leather. On the other hand, when I became a man, I traveled a thousand miles merely to see, and hear the voice of, a master whom I admired and whose picture I wished to have hanging in my mind. Who has not, when freed from the dead atmosphere of the schools, done a like thing? And with what gain to the precious sense of reality!

The whole country, not long since, was touched--many people were shocked--by the news that a Christian minister had dared to see with his own eyes the evils he was fighting, the existence of which he had been challenged to prove. Many good people at that time thought he had made a mistake. He said, "It is necessary that some one see these things. Do you think that I would be so base as to ask another to do what I would not do myself?" The result has proved the soundness of this position. No one now doubts that Dr. Parkhurst was in the right.

For not only were the facts shown to exist as alleged, but (and this is the point) the man himself who had seen them was so filled with a burning sense of their terrible reality, that he clung to his point with an everlasting grip, carried it triumphantly, and laid the foundations of our "civic renaissance."

The vast audience who heard Bishop Thoburn, missionary to India for thirty years, at Chautauqua, was stirred to its depths by the simple power of the man. What was the secret of his power? It did not lie in his bodily presence; it grew out of what the man had done. He was a man of action. He had given his life, and had lived. His speech was of that which he had lived. You felt that he had a right to speak--for every sentence had behind it weeks of real life.

Who has not felt the same when listening to one who speaks of that which he does know? And who has not felt the difference when trying to listen to one who talks, but whose words are not loaded with life?

You must have seen, acted, felt, if you would make your hearers see and feel and act. Talk is cheap, especially borrowed talk. It is not the story in the lesson quarterly that you can build into the lives of your cla.s.s; it is the story in you. It is the picture that has become a part of your life, that will be most likely to be built into the fabric of theirs.


The way in which a subject lies in the mind of an ordinary, unregenerate adult, one may be safe in saying, is just the wrong way--the way in which it should not be presented to a child. The order of exposition is in general the reverse of the order of acquisition.