The world is a dangerous place. And, as we have seen from Iraq to Missouri to the Ukraine, fragile and volatile. Often I just don’t know what to do or how to think.
What I do know is that story matters to me.
Maybe I believe that story matters more than anything because I am a storyteller. Or maybe I became a storyteller because I believe that story matters more than anything else. Either way, it probably doesn’t matter. The problems I see associated with the world today all boil down to the metanarrative(s) we all live within.
For many people the biggest story (metanarrative) that they live inside is their personal story.
We call these people all sorts of things from sociopaths to egomaniacs to shallow thinkers to go-getters to heroes. But they all have one thing in common—they are the main character of their story.
Then there are all the -isms of the world. There are those people who have broken out of thinking that their own life is their own big story, but have latched onto some popular (or reactionary) communal metanarrative. This can be as simple as believing that your biggest story is that of your home state or hometown, your family, your nation, your political party, your religion, your sports team, your career, your race or class, etc. Fundamentalism is an extreme version of this and is found in every religious and political worldview. I would argue that fundamentalism is the most dangerous thing on the planet (and always has been) because it eventually allows for the justified rejection of the things that make us good—empathy, grace, compassion and humility.
The reality is that most of us aren’t fundamentalists. We all live in overlapping, sometimes incongruent, stories. This causes confusion.
I am an American, for instance. Regardless of how I feel or think about America, I cannot really change the fact that I live within the reality of the story called America. My story is also that of an Ohioan and a transplanted Nevadan. I cannot divorce the story of Las Vegas from my story because the ten most formative years of my adult life were entwined within that city’s story. I also have family and religious heritage—I’m an Appalachian Campbellite if you must know. (At times this has evoked pride, at times shame and at times indifference, but it has never not been one of my big stories.) When I was finally eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild as a professional actor there was a temptation to make that my metanarrative.
Our metanarrative (the story we decide is primal) produces our self-observed ultimate identity. Perhaps unrealized, we all have a primary identity.
“I’m an actor.”
“I’m a lawyer.”
“I’m a good person.”
“I’m a conservative.”
“I’m a mother.”
For me, my big story is not that I am an American, a Caucasian, an ex-pastor or a SAG actor. I have come to believe that so long as I call myself a Christian, the story of God, Jesus and the Church is my big story. Or as GK Chesterton once said:
“I have attempted in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe. I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.”
Admittedly, my understanding of this story and what it even means to be a Christian is constantly evolving. There have always been, and currently are, very dangerous pockets of fundamentalism and elitism within Christianity that I accept as a reality, but reject as appropriate. There are parts of our story that I deeply love—I think of so many of stories about Jesus and the saints. There are parts of our story that make me uncomfortable. There are parts that are terrible and embarrassing. But whose story doesn’t have those parts? This is mine. I hope my journey and current expression of faith can contribute positively to the chapter I find myself in today. That may be what matters most to me above all else. And my biggest prayer for the world is that those of us from all backgrounds can find the empathy, humility and compassion needed to join arms and rally around that which we all know to be true. That every life is sacred. Every person matters. Everyone deserves love and respect.
Photo (Flickr CC) by fusion-of-horizons