“In the future, your children will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of the laws, the regulations, and the case laws that the Lord our God commanded you?’ tell them: We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. But the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”
Deuteronomy 6:20, 21 (Common English Bible)
My daughter, Rachael, was five years old at our move into a new home in Coppell, Texas. Shortly after settling into our new home, Rachael and I went exploring our new community. Near our home was a large, beautiful park and, within the park, a smaller, enclosed playground for children. Naturally, she wanted to meet the other children there in the playground, all engaged in their own play. I saw it as an opportunity to read while Rachael did what she does best – meeting strangers and forging deep and abiding friendships in little time. The playground was enclosed with a gate that had a safety design that only adults could open. Rachael would be safe as I turned my attention to my The New Yorker magazine.
After completing a short article, I thought it wise to have “eyes on” my daughter. I did not see her. I wasn’t concerned because of the safety design of the gate. But I did think it prudent to place my magazine down and find her. What I found was Rachael being Rachael. Seated on the ground in a semi-circle were four other little girls, approximately Rachael’s age, with their focus fixed upon Rachael, who was also seated. Not wanting to disrupt whatever Rachael was saying that held the attention of four strangers, I drew near quietly. What I heard from the heart of a five-year old was, “I was a slave girl in Egypt and Pharaoh was so mean to me. But my God is bigger than Pharaoh and God came for me one day, beat Pharaoh up and took me home. I don’t exactly remember it because I think I was asleep in my daddy’s arms.”
Where did Rachael get that story? From her father who received the story from his father who received the story from the Bible. It is a story that is captured here in Deuteronomy that occurs at a crucial juncture of Israel’s journey from slavery in Egypt. Just before the people leave their forty year journey in the wilderness, cross the Jordan River, and take possession of the land promised to them, Moses instructs them how to shape and mold their children into one powerful, corporate story. It is a story that will give meaning, and purpose, and understanding of who they are as a people of God. The story will be a response to the children’s inquiry, an inquiry that asks, what is the meaning of the laws God has “commanded you.” In a subtle shift, the children express a certain distance from their parent’s faith – “commanded you.”
Just as subtly, the parent’s answer is to breakdown the separation suggested by the children and includes them in the remarkable story of God’s deliverance, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt,” and “But the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” Questions about rules and laws in the faith community are answered in story. Stories are imaginative and embody fascination and richness that simple, direct explanations fail to provide. Stories invite the listener to enter, poke around a little, and locate a comfortable place to settle and claim a unique place in the larger narrative. The remarkable power of story was realized one bright, sunny day in a children’s playground area in Coppell, Texas: “I was a slave girl in Egypt,” spoke my daughter to four strangers. In those few words, Rachael entered the story, poked around here and there, and found herself belonging to something so much greater than one small girl. Rachael belonged to a people who have captured the heart of God.