Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church

UR Stories – Well Blog Post #1

February 22nd, 2013 by Pastor David Echelbarger

This is the first of four stories on the drilling of Pastor Dave’s and Christine’s well twenty one years ago in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The March 2013 Pleasant Spirit column: “The Water of Life” is also about wells and their spiritual realities. All of these writings were published by Pastor Dave through Eagle Printing in Marinette, Wisconsin.  

The first needs some explanation:  We are greatly influenced by the stories we hear and tell.  A story Pastor Dave heard shaped his decision making on the well.  Stories that shape our lives are called:  “Ur-Stories.”  The following was published July 20, 1992.



  I am writing about Ur-stories today.  Yes, I am torturing language again.  Pastor Christine is looking over my shoulder and reads the first sentence.

“Ur-stories?  ur-stories?”  She questions with a tone that lets me know that perhaps I should start over.  “What are ur-stories?” She asks again.

I write these words while she is still looking on:  “Ur” is a prefix meaning old, primitive, fundamental, or earliest.  Everything we do is based on a foundation that

scarcely extends above the surface of our conscious mind, a thin line visible just above the ground of awareness, but it reaches deep into our being – foundational,  like footings.  Here reside the values, beliefs, and learning systems that order everything else.  Most commonly, they have been placed there through our hearing of stories.  In large part, stories are our foundation.  When one such story becomes part of our being, it is an      “ur-story.”

“Does that answer your question?”  I ask her.

“Yes,” she replies.  She has left and we’re on our own.  Exit wife stage right.

I am a boat floating on ur-stories.  They support me and if I listen to them, I will make the right choices and follow promising paths.  They are my compass.  Stories are powerful because they activate our entire being.  Both our infamous left and right brains are engaged.  As we hear a story, we understand its intellectual punch line, the moral, with the technical reasoning part of our existence (left), but there is more.  We also feel the emotions, identify with the characters, and anticipate how we would feel in a similar

situation, all of which is right brain of emotion, feelings, and  symbols.  Stories fully engage us. Does your heart race in the midst of a profound tale?   Nothing can do this like a story.  We can lecture our kids morning to night until their eyes glaze, but when we tell them a story they are all eyes, ears, and very little mouth — except for the thousand follow up questions.

I am aware of my own log of Ur-stories when I recite them to my children, or when one pops up when I am trying to make a difficult decision.  For instance:

I will soon be building a house.  I am being told this by any number of people: “build the house, then drill the well. This way the well won’t be in the way during construction, it can be located optimally to the house, and it shouldn’t be a problem because nearby houses have wells.”  This is good advice, yet my stomach turns into a knots because an ur-story I am remembering warns against it.

As a boy growing up along the Mississippi, when we went fishing we drove north on the River Road to the island of Sabula which was connected to the main land by a causeway. Just before entering the causeway there was a prominent intersection where the road continued north.  On one side of the road was a bait shop on the other, a brand new sparkling pink motel . . . which was empty.

“Why doesn’t the motel have anybody staying at it Dad?”

I asked as a child of six.

“Because, they were fools.”


“They built the entire motel, had it furnished and ready to go and ‘then’ they drilled the well.  They discovered that the water was not safe to drink and they were not allowed to open.  The guy lost everything he had.  Imagine building first and ‘then’ drilling a well.”

This became more than an explanation about the bright pink deserted motel, but a lesson about first things first. As I grew older and traveled the River Road to fish on my own and over the years I watched  the motel fade into oblivion.  The roof sagged and eventually it was a pile of refuse to be hauled away.  The foundation remains:  a monument to the “first things first” mantra.  Whenever I have been tempted to rush impulsively into a cart before the horse situation, the ur-story of the decaying motel warns me.

“Drill the well last?”  Not with an ur-story standing on its hind

legs and warning against it.

Stories are crucial and more profound then we can imagine.  Some people I have known have chaffed when I’ve used the phrase:  “Biblical Story.”  “Biblical truth you mean!” they fire back.

“Yes it is true,” I reply, “but I mean a biblical story kind of truth.”  Biblical

story embodies more than intellectual truth, but lived experienced, felt truth as well.  Biblical story is the highest kind of complex truth — simple and profound at once.

As a child I was read Bible stories until they became part of my collection of      ur-stories.  This also was the focus of my Sunday School education, and my home devotional regime.  Then there came a time in the church that Sunday School

curriculum got uncomfortable with a story focus.  Stories were told but then they were boiled down into eternal truths, or family truths and the emphasis was removed from the story itself.  We focused on a single kernel of truth only.  The vehicle (the story) was thrown away.

This is tragic.  The great truths that came from the lips of our Lord were stories, the parables.  Nothing causes me greater stress than preaching on them.  They are so

powerful in their original form, I feel anything I say to interpret them will distract from the original story.  Our faith is the story of people’s lived experience with God through time.  There are intellectual truths to be had, sure,  but  the story itself has the profound total impact.

Whenever I have contemplated moving my ministry to a new location, I have thought intellectually about it; but more, I walked with Old Abraham as he journeyed to a new land.  When I am in turmoil, dry as dust and answers run over the horizon

before I can catch up to them, I don’t just turn to stress control management techniques, I walk with Moses in the wilderness, and feel that for all the twisting paths there is a promised land ahead.

If we would make a lasting contribution to our children’s lives we need to do more than enroll them in sports, look after their grades and dress them in designer clothes.  We need to tell them stories, our stories, their grandparents’ stories, and most importantly of all Bible stories.  They will be eager listeners.  They are built to hear them, and if we do not let the stories live in them, they will be empty, a home without foundation, a traveler facing paths without map or compass, a motel without a well.

Ur-stories?  Ur-stories?  What are they?  The foundation of our life.  Pass them on.

Pastor David L. Echelbarger



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