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Rev. Christy Thomas: Stories inspire people in variety of ways

On the first day of the Thin Line film and music festival, I joined a packed crowd to watch When We Were All Broncos, a documentary about the end of segregation in Denton.

I’m not a Denton native, but I would guess most of those attending the film screening were natives, so this story was very much their history. But even as an outsider, I found myself moved to tears by the power of the story and the impact of the film.

Now, I could summarize the story here like this: Because of the courage and integrity of educators, civic leaders, women’s friendships and the nature of athletic teams, Denton accomplished with peace and speed what many communities are still trying to do — create a space with equal access to all, and one that is essentially colorblind.

OK, there you have it. In 46 words, the summary. And I would say those 46 words have no real impact at all. But seeing the film, even for one such as I without history here and not knowing most of the people featured, left me full of gratefulness and more determined to continue to help bring about a more just society.

As one who writes and thinks about the nature of religious faith and expression, particularly Christian faith, I’ve often heard the question, “Why didn’t Jesus just make it clear what we are supposed to believe? That would stop all these never-ending arguments about what it means to be Christian.”

But instead, what we have from Jesus is story — stories of families and farmers and seeds and storms and houses and sickness and health and death and life. Stories to inform, to suggest, to open the first listeners and then generation upon generation of new listeners and readers to fresh possibilities in every one of these areas.

Stories touch us in deep areas; they connect with our own stories.

When I was in the pulpit, I told stories, I created pictures, I found film clips to help bridge the biblical world to our world. I am guessing that if I polled the members of the church I served and asked them what they remembered about the 350 or so messages I preached there, they would remember stories far more than the doctrinal glue that held them together.

When doing memorial services or funerals, I always told the families and friends, “Don’t stop telling stories about your loved one. Tell the funny ones, the sad ones, the crazy ones, the good ones. Pass on those stories to your children. This is how we keep them alive.”

I learned the story of Denton on Wednesday night. I learned parts of the sad history of Denton when Quakertown, a place of vitality and industry and community for the black community, was summarily dismantled and taken over in a wrong-headed move by civic and educational leaders.

I will never walk in that park again without hearing and sensing the history underneath my feet.

And then I learned all over again the power of sports played with integrity; of educators who were more than educators, but also counselors and teachers of character and discipline; of students who would not stand by silently and see one of their classmates treated badly because of skin color; of women who crossed boundaries, held hands and challenged the status quo; of civic leaders who said, “We will do the right thing.”

This is the history of a town I have adopted as my own. And I am in awe. But I never would have learned it if someone had not been willing to tell the story and tell it in a way that many could hear and see it and be changed by it.

That’s also the nature of religious faith. We tell our stories, of how we were changed and offer those stories to others. Let’s keep telling them.

THE REV. DR. CHRISTY THOMAS blogs at E-mail: