Between the Listening and the Telling – Mark Yaconelli

Between the Listening and the Telling Mark Yaconelli
Between the Listening and the Telling: How Stories Can Save Us by Mark Yaconelli, Anne Lamott
Published by Broadleaf Books on August 9, 2022
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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We need a teacher and a book such as this.--Anne Lamott, from the foreword
Stories tether us to what matters most: our families, our friends, our hearts, our planet, the wondrous mystery of life itself. Yet the stories we've been telling ourselves as a civilization are killing us: Fear is wisdom. Vanity is virtuous. Violence is peace. In the pages of Between the Listening and the Telling, storyteller, author, and activist Mark Yaconelli helps us find and craft the stories worth telling: of repair, and justice, and truth, and empathy--leading us into an enchanting meditation on the power of storytelling in our individual and collective lives.
Through his work with The Hearth, a storytelling nonprofit, Yaconelli has spent thousands of hours listening to people as they grieve loss, deepen friendships, strengthen families, shed light on injustice, and celebrate wonder. By borrowing practices from spiritual communities, such as silence, song, meals, and a moral imperative to serve the greater good, he helps us tap into the sacred power of storytelling. From personal meaning-making to school shootings, climate change, and immigration justice, listening to and telling stories helps us connect to our human longings and deep currents of hope.
With a foreword by Anne Lamott, Between the Listening and the Telling offers an alloy of story, commentary, and meditation. In an era of runaway loneliness, alienation, global crisis, and despair, sharing stories helps us make a home within ourselves and one another.

I’ve long believed in the power of telling stories. It’s one of the reasons for this website and definitely the reason why it was named Life is Story. When we think of our life as a story, we come to a better understanding of our own identity and our place in the larger story of our communities. It also helps us see the perspective of others. Mark Yaconelli’s Between the Listening and the Telling takes all of my unexpressed feelings about life being story and unleashes them into an eloquent, impactful treatise on the need to tell and listen to stories. Through the relationship and perspective cultivated through story, we will ultimately find identity, understanding, and flourishing.

In the beginning of Between the Listening and the Telling, Yaconelli writes “This is how stories can save us. We step into the reality of another person’s existence and instead of judgment feel kinship.” That sentence is the beating heart of the book. As is another sentence that soon follows: “the power of story is the power of relationships.” But the problem is that we are no longer listening to stories. We’ve become more distant, less willing to listen, and disconnected from our own selves and our own narratives. Yaconelli shines a light on the path back.

This isn’t just some idealistic book about the power of story. Yaconelli offers practical ideas based on his real-life work in cultivating storytelling for the purpose of forming identity, resolving differences, and finding healing. He uses real examples from his own life and ministry, giving the book depth and nuance. I wept over the story of Morton Kelsey, someone whose name I had previously known but whose story I hadn’t. I wept again when I read that section aloud to my wife later that night. The first reading did nothing to dampen the rawness of the emotions that came through Yaconelli’s writing and Kelsey’s story of discovering belonging. I laughed at the story of the wine connoisseur insistent on objectively valuing wines on a number-rating system who discovered, to his shock, that a great conversation made him believe he was being served a top-tier wine when it was actually just something average.

Between the Listening and the Telling invites readers to share their stories and teaches them how to do so by sharing the stories of others. Yaconelli doesn’t sit afar off as an academic, either, just because he’s the guide. As the guide he goes first, telling readers his own story and how it all led to the book we now have in our hands. Storytelling can change the world. Harnessing the power of story is a foundational tool in developing human flourishing. Yaconelli gives us the blueprint and the proof of concept all in one package. This is truly a transformative book.