Saturday, March 20, 2004

The Power of Story

In the field of co-intelligence, stories are more than dramas people tell or read. Story, as a pattern, is a powerful way of organizing and sharing individual experience and exploring and co-creating shared realities. It forms one of the underlying structures of reality, comprehensible and responsive to those who possess what we call narrative intelligence. Our psyches and cultures are filled with narrative fields of influence, or story fields, which shape the awareness and behavior of the individuals and collectives associated with them.
-from The Co-Intelligence Institute
Story as a way of sharing realities. I think most of us would agree with that. I think it is through stories that most of us make sense out of our lives. The glue that holds together communities is a common story.

Some of us grew up with the biblical narrative being The Story. It was the underpinning of Western thought and literature. I think it is important to face the reality that, in some places, this is no longer the case.

I can recall a time in my life when the social norm was that everyone went to church on Sunday. If your car was in the driveway Sunday morning, the neighbors would take note. In the latter part of the twentieth century, this norm shifted. It became acceptable to play golf, take junior to a sporting event, or curl up with the Sunday Times in bed on the first morning of the week.

With the liberation of this shifting of the social norm also came the freedom to adhere to a higher level of intellectual integrity. As Marcus Borg suggests;

Mainline denominations have seen a membership decline of roughly 40 percent over the last 35 years. But most of the people leaving mainline denominations have not joined more conservative churches. They've simply dropped out. Presumably, a major reason many of them dropped out is that the form of Christianity they learned growing up ceased to make compelling sense to them. If it had made sense, they still would be in the church.
This generation, who knew the biblical story but chose to reject it as "their story," became the parents of another generation, who grew up with limited or nonexistent knowledge of the scriptures. Now these children are having children.

I don't think humanity can sustain any level of cohesiveness without a primal story that connects them and gives them a common frame of reference. There are Christians who recognize this need, and are attempting to sort out what is essential to the Gospel story, and how these essentials might be presented today (I think Marcus Borg is among the best in this effort). This work needs to be one of highest priorities, as a simple rearranging of the furniture is not going to do the job. The entire story has to be rethought, and presented in such a way that it meets people where they are.

Where are they? To quote Borg once again;

The vast majority of Americans, according to polls taken in 2002, cannot be religious exclusivists. Only 18 percent of people surveyed in two different polls taken in 2002 said yes to "My religion is the only true religion." Another example: In a Gallup poll taken in 1963, 65 percent of the sample were biblical literalists. By 2001 that figure had gone down to 21 percent.
We might say that these Americans are "wrong," and that they MUST accept the Gospel as presented by previous generations, but I don't think that perspective is going to get anyone to listen to the story.

While Christians debate about how to retell the story, the rest of the world has moved on. New stories are discovered that resonate with their life experience. As of yet, there is not a dominant story. But I think it is only a matter of time until one emerges.

As but one example, consider The Matrix. I have one son who watches these movies over and over. They speak to his condition. They make sense of his world.

James Ford, in The Journal of Religion and Film, makes this observation;

Mixing metaphors from Christianity, Buddhism, Greek mythology, and even cyber technology, The Matrix as myth may be seen as an analysis of the contemporary existential condition. It appropriates the decidedly Christian messianic mythological framework but imports a form of Buddhist idealism to radically transform the (Christian) existential understanding of the human condition. In this respect, it dialectically produces a new worldview through myth.
This is not accidental, btw. This story is literally brimming with bits and pieces pulled from our collective unconscious. For a more thorough examination of the bits and pieces, check out this exegesis of the film.

It is when I listen to your story, and you listen to mine, that we discover the places where we might encounter God's story.

If Christians continue to insist on holding an exclusive discussion on what can and cannot be considered the "right" story, we may one day wake up to find Keanu Reeves as the new messiah, and the summary of the law being expressed as "Be excellent to one another."

Although, some days I'm not so sure that would be such a bad thing.


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