I recently came across this piece from npr.org regarding the expiration of TARP, and the quandary that many in the news media faced themselves to be in, as they had no way to categorize what had happened based on the narrative they had built. Quoted below:
And narratives matter. Nothing is more central to journalistic practice than the telling of stories. Stories are how we capture, comprehend, explain and deliver the news. Without stories, we would be wandering lost across the landscape of events and sensations. We need a narrative, or we have no organizing idea.
This imperative applies not only to each days events, but to the broader sweep of occurrences in succession. We need a narrative for each week, each month and each fiscal year. We need a narrative for every electoral cycle.And once we have established such a narrative, everything is under control. Everything, that is, except whatever fails to fit the narrative.
When we here narrative, or story, we think fiction. Maybe fairy tales. But story, narrative, matters in much more significant ways. It is the thing that allows the trajectory of our lives to be plotted in some meaningful, purposeful way.
So, this brings us back to the question: how big is your story? Who or what is authoring the imperatives of your life? How is the drama unfolding, and how does the script fit? I think these are important questions to ask, because it brings several elements in to play:
- If I am the central actor in my story, how does the good of others play in to it?
- If I define the main organizing ideas to my life, how do I objectively evaluate what is good, beautiful, and true? How do I work for the good of others when it falls outside the scope of my limited knowledge?
- What do I do when things fail to fit the narrative that I have constructed?
I would propose that the only way to meaningfully answer these questions is through the
lens of the Bible, and the Gospel of Jesus. The problem is, many who are reading this are nodding their heads at that statement while at the same time importing so many things that have become “part and parcel” with the gospel of late, many due to a collapsing evangelical subculture of “Christendom”. Indeed, many who would call themselves “evangelical” have had their narratives shaped as well, but those narratives have been shaped by nationalism, patriotism, militarism, evangelicalism, and a host of other “-isms” that have become directly associated with what the Scriptures actually taught.
So what’s the point?
The point is that we all need to be continually “shaped and reshaped” by the Scriptures. We need to allow the Spirit of God to undress and redress us after his own image, rather than vice-versa. As Dr. Michael Horton puts it,
“Before we can be rescripted, we have to take a step back. While today our identities are more the scattered clippings of ideal images packaged and marketed to us in a barrage of advertising masquerading as entertainment, the “self” who is rendered in the biblical drama of redemption is a solid self only because he or she belongs to a story that is much larger than oneself.” (Horton, pp. 34 A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship)
Part of this reshaping is to recognize that we have, in some way, reduced Christianity to simply a matter of “personal faith and trust in Jesus.” While this is true, what has happened (as is so often the case) is that we fail to see the broader implications. Dr. Horton goes on to say this:
“…we must be careful not to reduce the drama of redemption to our own individual salvation. There is a kind of pietistic individualism that, though faithful enough in proclaiming the believer’s sin and redemption, fails to place that marvelous reality in the wider context of God’s plan of redemption. Christians, too, in that sort of scheme, can lack the coordinates that give a larger purpose and meaning to their lives. Like Hamlet’s “play within a play,” our story and its re-emplotment take place only within the whole play itself. We find the coordinates of our identity and role by belonging to a story and a plot that is larger than any one of us. In fact, our identity could not reach any narrative unity apart from being coordinated with a larger narrative plot, which is given in the history of Israel and Jesus. Through its twists and turns, it narrates and enacts God’s victory over the devil and his designs.” (Horton, pp. 56-57 A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship)
So, what then is the narrative? What then is the story? The narrative is God’s redemptive work. The story is his, the authorship is his, the central player is himself, and the central message belongs to him.
But that may mean that we have to allow our stories to be re-scripted. And that may take recognizing that central ideas and guiding philosophies have to go.
And that will require something that only the Spirit can provide. Grace and faith.