For Christians, the story of Jesus is not only the greatest story ever told, but Jesus was the greatest storyteller ever.
If architecture could be called the skeleton of Christianity and sermons the sinew, stories of faith always have been its lifeblood.When Jesus began the parable of the prodigal son with "A certain man had two sons," you can almost hear the hush.
Today, when Protestants tell conversion stories or Mormons share spiritual experiences, those who have ears to hear still listen.
And they'll be listening when one of Christendom's finest storytellers comes to town next week as a guest of The Salt Lake Seminary.
Michael Kelly Blanchard is not an ordained minister. He's a troubadour -- a wandering minstrel.
Like the fellow in the folk song "One of These Days," he travels across the land, carrying the Good Book in his hand, singing out as loud as he can.
And the lion's share of message consists of stories that move people to tears.
Some of his stories take the form of songs, some are shaped like books, some look like theater productions. But each tale adds a fresh chapter to the Christian storybook.
"I think Jesus recognized that stories would work with human beings because we're living out a story ourselves," Blanchard said from his New England home. "And he didn't seem at all concerned whether people 'got' his parables or not. That leads me to believe he wanted people to come to the story on their own paths. The parable was like a town that people could enter from various roads. He knew our own experience would eventually catch up with the story and we'd say 'Now I see that story in a new light.'
"He knew that stories begin in the heart regions and hang out there. He was the Timeless One dealing with time-bound creatures, so he spoke the language of heaven in stories. He knew they'd inhabit our hearts until we're ready for them."
Blanchard's own stories do a good job of "inhabiting the heart" as well. Whether he's singing about a Down Syndrome child rescued by an unlikely benefactor, shaping a play about a romance reeling from bad choices or simply spinning yarns from the stage, Blanchard has a masterly touch.
And storytelling is his way of treading in his Master's steps.
"I think of myself as a connector," he says. "I use stories to make connections. People today are very heavy on theology and Bible study. Yet each time I get button-holed into talking theology, I feel people let go of my hand. People don't remember a lot of facts from school, but they always seen to remember playground experiences. That's because their hearts were engaged in those things. When I sing a song called 'Cootie Girl,' for instance, everyone plugs in a name from their past."
In the songs and stories of Michael Kelly Blanchard, however, the name that gets plugged into the story most often is your own.
Anyone who'd like to spend an evening plugging in names and "hanging out" in the heart regions can hear Blanchard at the Grace Baptist Church, 390 N. 400 East in Bountiful at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 6. Call 292-1661 for details.
There's no official admission price, though "love-will" donations will be accepted at the door.