Compiled by Connie Barlow
TheGreatStory.org/parables.html

    
EVOLUTIONARY PARABLES
(a form of Readers Theater)

dramatic scripts and stories for
fun, poignant, and virtues-rich ways of teaching
the science-based Epic of Evolution (Big History)

science as the foundation for modern myths
• • •
encouraging ethics and values for thriving today


 

"'Thou shalt not' might reach the head, but it takes 'Once upon a time' to reach the heart." — Philip Pullman


  

Video: Connie teaches parable


Video: 21-minute performance
 

   1. "STARTULL: The Story of an Average Yellow Star"

    by Connie Barlow

  • Science Lesson: ancestral red giant and big blue stars created all the atoms crucial for life.

  • Virtues & Values: accepting self and others; balancing humility and pride; trust in the ways of the universe; death as natural and important even among stars; giving back to the universe from one's personal talents; mentoring; naturalness of growing up; stages in life; patience; being average is OK!; creating is cool!; embracing the circle of life; acceptance of imperfections; we all have something to offer; appreciation of diversity; change happens; interdependence

  • Click for a SCRIPT OF "Startull: The Story of an Average Yellow Star" that UPPER ELEMENTARY and MIDDLE-SCHOOL kids can act out with no advance preparation! There are roles for 4 actors/script-readers. Also great with ADULTS.

    NOTE: Several Unitarian Universalist churches have performed this parable at intergenerational worship services. Click for stage directions used by one such church.

    Photo at top right of this page are 3 of the parable actors.

  •   


        
    2. "OZZIE & THE SNORTLEFISH" - by Denny O'Neil

  • Science Lesson: fish evolve limbs and come onto land.

  • Virtues & Values: the importance of initiative and patience; a positive attitude; self-differentiation; imagination; there are natural consequences to the choices we make; curiosity; play; friendliness; perils of sloth and arrogance and being stuck in the past; evolution is good

  • Click here for a science report on one of Ozzie's actual descendants, Tiktaalik. Also, learn how the living African Lungfish "walks" underwater in a way very similar to how "Ozzie" probably did.

    3 roles: great with ADULTS or KIDS. (photo of performance at top of page, with girl in red shorts as Ozzie)

        Narrative Version     Script Version     "Snortlefish" Rap Song
     

  •   

    Video: Connie describes parable

     


       3. "THE LUCKY LITTLE SEAWEED" - by Mark McMenamin

  • Science Lesson: how land plants evolved from algae and fungi from the sea.

  • Virtues & Values: how competitors may both be better off if they learn to cooperate.

         3 roles: great with ADULTS or KIDS.

        Single Storyteller     Script Version     Rap Song


  • VIDEO: Connie describes parable to adult audience

     

  •   

    Video: excerpt of performance
     


       4. "PLUTO's IDENTITY CRISIS"

         by Connie Barlow and Bella Downey

  • Science Lesson: why Pluto is considered a dwarf planet.

  • Virtues & Values: adoption as natural in the Universe; apologizing for hurting someone's feelings; friendship.

  • Click for a SCRIPT OF "Pluto's Identity Crisis" that ELEMENTARY and MIDDLE-SCHOOL kids (who can read) can act out with no advance preparation! There are roles for anywhere from 4 to 12 kids. (photo above top left)

  • Click for ADULT and YOUTH versions of the PLUTO Parable

     

  •     

    Video: Connie describes parable

     


      
    5. "THE BUDDHA BOWL" - by Paula Hirschboeck

  • Science Lesson: We are made of stardust!

  • Virtues & Values: subtle adult values of identifying with the whole, having courage, collaborating with the natural flow of events.

         4 roles: a serious ADULT / TEEN SCRIPT

        Narrative Version     Script Version    Guidance for incorporating it into a Stardust Ritual

     


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    6. "OF BLACK HOLES AND HOL-I-NESS" - by Paula Hirschboeck

  • Science Lesson: Black Holes are not only destructive forces but are the birthplace of stars.

  • Virtues & Values: Embracing the paradox of creation/destruction, of life/death, of darkness/life; critiquing race and gender stereotypes; affirming women and the female body; acknowledging the ancient and diverse symbol of the divine feminine; recognizing the importance of imagination in how we understand the Universe and ourselves.

         4 roles: a serious ADULT / TEEN SCRIPT

        Script Version in PDF   

     


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    7. "MENAGERIE OF THE MIND" - by Connie Barlow

  • Science Lesson: a playful way to learn about the 4 "characters" of our evolved Quadrune Brain

  • Virtues & Values: Appreciating the evolved survival value of all 4 aspects of our brain: Lizard Legacy, Furry L'il Mammal, Monkey Mind, Higher Porpoise, while learning why developing a higher purpose (Higher Porpoise ) is vital for a healthy life in human society today.

         6 roles: a playful ADULT / TEEN SCRIPT

        Script Version in PDF

       

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    8. "EARTH HAD A CHALLENGING CHILDHOOD" - by Connie Barlow

  • Science Lesson: how meteor impacts created Earth, our moon, and opened the door for mammal evolution by killing off dinosaurs.

  • Virtues & Values: teaches that challenges are inherent in the Universe and that they can become a source of opportunity.

        SCRIPT for 1 or 2 actors     AUDIO author performance (2002 at Community Unitarian Church White Plains)

  • Supplement this story with an awesome and beautiful NASA video that shows the moon forming and its evolution over time.

     


  •   


    9. "WHO AM I?" - by Connie Barlow

         Science Lesson: We are made of stardust; our ancestors lived in the sea.

         Virtues & Values: expanding one's sense of self to include the entire Cosmos. 

        Narrative Version   Script for 2 actors

     


      


    10. "THE DANCE" - by Larry Edwards

         Science Lesson: death as a natural part of the Cosmos

         Virtues & Values: coming to terms with death; helps us recognize our human arrogance. 

        narrative

     


    11. "EARTH'S EYES" - by Leslie Pilder

         Science Lesson: basics about the moon and planets; evolution of eyesight; emergence from sea to land.

         Virtues & Values: honors "The Great Mystery"; Earth "sees" through its creatures; serving the whole; patience. 

        narrative

     


      


    12. "LAMENT OF THE BLUE-GREEN ALGAE" (poem) - by Neal McBurnett 

        narrative

     


      


    13. "A LONG WINTER" - by Connie Barlow

         Science Lesson: metabolic diversity for adapting to cold; human emergence in African savanna; heritage as firemakers; glacial times and ice-age refuges for temperate plants.

         Virtues & Values: storytelling as central to being human; honoring ancestors; importance of emotional refuges and maintaining faith while in a "dark" time.

        narrative

     


      


    14. "A LEAF OF GRASS" - by Connie Barlow

         Science Lesson: We are made of stardust.

         Virtues & Values: nurturing one's "Great Self"; honoring of Walt Whitman and those who live on through their written words. 

        narrative

     


      


    15. "THE DANCE OF ISLANDS AND CONTINENTS" - by Connie Barlow

         Science Lesson: the distinctive roles of islands v. continents in evolving biotic diversity; Galapagos finches; New Zealand tuatara; Madagascan lemurs; plate tectonics.

         Virtues & Values: the legend of St. Patrick and snakes in Ireland; the importance of both challenges and sheltering for human psychic growth; how humans are devastating islands by introducing exotic species.

        narrative

     


      


    16. "DEATH OF THE DINOSAURS" - by Connie Barlow

         Science Lesson: the wonders of life (dinosaurs, mosasaurs, etc.) at the end Cretaceous and why they vanished; the wonders of the glory days of the Age of Mammals; evolution of human civilization.

         Virtues & Values: death and rebirth as a cosmic pair; humans as celebrants of the evolutionary story.

        narrative

     

      

    Evolutionary parables being performed by volunteers at Great Story events.

    WHAT ARE GREAT STORY PARABLES?

    Such parables are vignettes or episodes of the all-embracing grand story of the Universe, Earth, and Life. (This story is also known, in academia, as Big History) They are vignettes, little stories, each complete and satisfying in and of itself, intended to instruct and inspire. As with the Arabian Scheherazade tales (The Thousand and One Nights) and the British cycle of stories organized around King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the Universe Story is a story best articulated as a family of subsidiary tales.

    WHY DO WE NEED PARABLES TO TELL THE STORY?

    The full sweep of our cosmic creation story, The Great Story (also known as the Universe Story or Epic of Evolution), is so overwhelming that few attempts have been made to tell it in anything less than the length of a book. The best VIDEO we have seen of the entire 13.7 billion year story is The History of the World in Two Hours (2012, History Channel).

    Perhaps the most successful and widely known short version of the story is the experiential "Cosmic Walk" developed by Miriam Therese MacGillis in the late 1980s and since adapted and used in many forms. Great Story Beads are a beautiful, accessible, and fun way to enter into the story, too. But it is sometimes helpful to focus on just one episode or theme, and to tell that little story dramatically, or playfully, or poignantly, or enigmatically. Parables could thus tools for teaching mainstream scientific understandings of the cosmos in ways that entertain and enhance the listening.

    The parable form also lends opportunity to bring, what Michael Dowd calls, "night language" into tellings of The Great Story — allegorical modes common to all creation stories.

    WHY IMAGINATIVE PARABLES ARE CRUCIAL FOR CHILDREN

    Ken Wilber, in his 2006 book Integral Spirituality writes:

    "In the grand developmental waves available to humans, the archaic, magic, and mythic waves are predominantly the province of the world's great religious and mythic systems. This in itself is not a bad thing; in fact, it is a necessary and absolutely crucial function of the world's great mythologies. Every human is born at square one and begins his or her unfolding from there, moving from archaic to magic to mythic and possibly higher, and if the world's mythologies were not a repository of these early-level beliefs, every human born would have to reinvent them anew." (p. 180)
         "These great myths, laid down 3000 years ago, could never be created today, not because humanity has no imagination, but because everyone has a video camera. Just let Moses try to claim he parted the Red Sea today and see how far he gets." (p. 192)
    Ken Wilber is correct, at one level. But he misses entirely at another. The Great Story parables listed above demonstrate why. Take the "Startull" parable, for example. A group of sibling stars all end up talking with one another. No adult would believe this is real. But this might be just the right inflection of personified "magic" for young children in our science-based culture to be fed magical/mythic tales crucial for early childhood developmental stages and which teach not fantasy stories but the real scientific facts and the real values important for living today.

    WHAT ELSE CAN PARABLES DO?

    Like parables in the Bible, Great Story parables will help us talk about and foster values and virtues: life-centered values as well as human-centered values. Parables also offer distinctive themes that will make it possible to connect the Great Story with existing holidays, seasonal observances, and rites of passage.

    Parables can serve as "scripture" upon which "Big History" can be enriched with values and meaning and thus rendered into Great Story talks, sermons, celebrations, and rituals. Finally, parables will make it possible for virtually any among us to contribute and distribute our creativity in ways that can make a difference.

    DRAMATIC SCRIPTS FOR ACTING OUT PARABLES

    Some evolutionary parables, particularly the playful ones with distinctive characters and dialogue, are fun and meaningful to act out in workshops and other group contexts. The first 7 parables at the top of this page have been adapted for such use. PDF versions are available for free download; the stories each call for a narrator plus two or more characters, and thus are a form of Readers Theater).

       

    LEFT: volunteers at 2004 Meadville-Lombard Winter Institute performing "Lucky Little Seaweed"
    RIGHT: During Evolution Sunday (11 February 2007), member Joyce Wilson and
    Pastor Pete Terpenning reenact "The Lucky Little Seaweed"
    at Community United Church of Christ in Boulder, CO.

    * * *

    HOW TO WRITE AND CONTRIBUTE A PARABLE

    Email your parable to:

      

  • How does one prepare to write a parable?
  • We are looking for parables that celebrate each of the "major moments of transformation". We are also looking for parables that depict an emergence or unfolding of lesser magnitude that nevertheless beautifully, poignantly, or humorously reveals one or more of the processes by which evolution works. So begin by taking the opportunity to get thoroughly grounded in the scientific underpinnings of the episode you choose to work on. And live with that event, until values and teachings emerge for you.

  • Goals To Keep in Mind
  • See if you can tell the tale of a past event in a way that forever transforms the listener's experience of something she or he regularly encounters in today's world, so that future encounters will call up the story and lesson of the parable. Lesson is key: the storyline should be interwoven with values and virtues—ranging from a grounding sense that this is our cosmic home to teachings that promote Earth-friendly attitudes and practices.

  • Who Is the Audience?
  • Here is our chance to reach out to the wider community of folks who have little science background and no previous contact with our movement. Yet don't be shy about using scientific terms in moderate doses; meaning can well be conveyed in context, and especially through repetition. Parables are our opportunity to celebrate language and urge helpful and evocative terms toward broader use. (Think of all the multi-syllabic technical names of dinosaurs the average ten-year-old can recite.) Those of us who want to write for kids—great! We adults enjoy a children's story well told; it silences the critic in us and thus gives our imagination permission to roam.

  • A Return to Orality
  • There is power in the spoken word. And our culture is hungering for personal contact. So we encourage contributors to write a parable for oral delivery. That means short sentences low on abstraction and high on imagistic detail. No parable should take longer than ten minutes to recite, at a slow, storytelling pace. Each should provide flexible enough content and style to encourage extemporaneous delivery, as well as direct recitation. Dialogue format, as noted above, is ideal for dramatic acting out in a group. Parables written as dialogue with scripts are a form of Readers Theater, and a number of websites offer excellent instructions and examples: "Tips on Scripting"; "Classic Examples of Scripts for Readers Theater"; more examples

  • Choral Reading Scripts for Full Participation
  • Children especially like to participate, rather than simply watch a subset of their peers perform. "Choral Reading Scripts" are a form of readers theater for the entire class. The repetitive use of catch phrases is helpful, too. For example, the parable "Earth Had a Challenging Childhood" repeats such phrases as "The Earth shook like jelly" and "So, what do you think?"

  • Incorporating Affirmations
  • Live with the questions for awhile. Why is this episode inspiring? Why does it allure you? What do you learn from it? In what life situations might you look to the event for assurance or guidance? What does it remind you of? See if a poetic, moving affirmation comes to mind for you to include in the parable: something the reader might take on for themselves in times of need. Consider that you have the possibility of creating a phrase or metaphor so powerful that it will live on long after you are gone. Note: A kind of affirmation repeated in the Startull Parable (above) is, "Such is the way of the universe."

  • Let the Parable Evolve
  • Write and rewrite, edit and edit and edit. Have your friends make suggestions, too, before you send your script to us. Remember that these are stories: there should be action, tension followed by resolution, perhaps an unexpected twist in plot, memorable characters. Be profound, if you wish, poignant, and by all means playful! As to the values content, stories instruct best if the instruction is subtle, subliminal—and if they entertain.

    Let there be nuances and mystery, too, and consider the full range of voices available to you. Most of us easily write as omniscient narrator, but you could also invent and name actual characters to tell the tale for you through dialogue or dramatic monologue. Heroic quest and Kipling-style just-so stories may work well, too. (Consult Eric Schulman's 1999 book, A Briefer History of Time for other style possibilities.) If you find it difficult to get started, just try, "Once upon a time . . ."

  • Publishing Your Parable
  • Parables that inspire, move, or delight and that further the understanding of the Great Story and its importance will be published on this website for free viewing and download.

  • Parables Writing in the Classroom
  • Patricia Gordon, professor of literature at John Abbott College in Montreal, Canada is developing a curriculum for having her students write parables. Mark McMenamin, professor of paleontology at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts is inviting his science undergraduates to try their hand at parables writing. The carrot here: some students may produce parables that, when helpfully edited, merit a place on this website.

  • Multiple Versions of the Same Event
  • There is no single way for any component story to be told, and different writers will emphasize different value connotations. For this reason, just because one parable has already been written for a particular event, it doesn't mean that a dozen more cannot be written too! For example, Paula Hirschboeck wrote her "Buddha Bowl" parable to celebrate the creation of elements in the bellies of ancient stars, and used an enigmatic Zen koan format in doing so. Later, Connie Barlow wrote of the same event, taking on the voice of Walt Whitman as narrator (in "A Leaf of Grass"). Later, Connie created a new storyline with playful characters and scripted it as, "Startull: The Story of an Average Yellow Star."

  • Sharing the Creativity
  • Once you submit your parable for publication, expect to watch others evolve it! We hope readers will feel free to modify these stories and carry them into the world for their own particular uses and for different audiences. Ideally, some readers will take orality to the next level; instead of reciting your parable exactly as you wrote it, they will deliver the gist of it extemporaneously.

  • Keep It Brief
  • Your best chance of getting your parable published by us is to make it no longer than 20 minutes.

    Email your parable to:

      


  • Ideas for Future Parables: Here are some title possibilities for future parables:

    Omnicentric Universe

    Galaxies Galore
    Sacrifice of the Supernovas Cosmic Alchemy
    The Story of Calcium Cosmic Catastrophes as Opportunities
    First Life The Age of Bacteria
    The Oxygen Crisis—or Opportunity? Celebrating the Cambrian
    Death of the Dinosaurs The Reptiles Who Ruled the Seas
    Generosity of the sun In Praise of Worms
    The Adventure of Weather and Gravity
    (coming out onto land)
    Heoroes by Happenstance
    (The Tale of Ichthyostega)
    We Are Water Creatures Ancestors All the Way Down
    Breakup of Pangaea The Legacy of Gondwanaland
    When the Isthmus of Panama Arose Creative Tinkering
    Keeping the Memory Alive The Old Ones
    Standing on the Shoulders of Giants Majestic Mergers
    Lichen, Lichen, Everywhere It Takes a Universe to Make a Child
    Ice Time The Story of Soil
    The Dance of Islands and Continents Earth Blooms
    A Fruitful Longing Garden of Ediacara
    Hypersea The Emerging Ecozoic
    Convergence Earth Learns to Fly
    An Immense Journey Return to the Sea
    The Story of Ginkgo Trees Who Knew the Dinosaurs
    How Honey Locust Got Her Honey How Hawthorns Got their Thorns
    Honoring the Elders When Grasses Graced Earth
    Our Magnificent Moon Cataclysms Galore
    Of Horsetails and Ferns The Wonders of Wood

     

    Of course, you can also pick any one of the transformational moments mentioned in the more than dozen TIMELINES we link to, and then write a parable about that event. The possibilities are endless!



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