Monday, March 03, 2008

The E-Word and our Metanarrative

I guess I am post-modern. I've never tried to be, but whenever I decide to google the things that I really believe in I end up on some obscure website reading about post-modernism, post-liberalism or post-Enlightenment thinking. Kinda makes you wonder what the "pre" to the "post" is. I mean, I guess this means that my entire worldview somehow rejects what was popular thinking when I entered the world making me "post-everything." A thousand years from now people like me probably won't be known as post-anything. Maybe we will be known as pre-narratives or pre-neotheocommunists or whatever. At any rate, the same thing they were saying about my generation twenty years ago is still true - all we really know for sure is that we don't know who we are yet.

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. Either way, it probably doesn't matter. The problems I see associated with faith in America boil down to the fact that people refuse to believe that their faith-story is actually their metanarrative (I'd define this word as "the biggest story I live inside.")

For many people the biggest story that they live inside is their own story. We call these people all sorts of things from sociopaths to egomaniacs to shallow thinkers to go-getters to a-holes. But they all have one thing in common - they are the main character of their main story. This thinking is not only incompatible with the metanarrative of Jesus, but it is antithetical to it. It's more or less the opposite.

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 town, your family, your nation, your political views, your religious denomination, your sports team, your career, your race or class, etc.

We all live in overlapping stories. 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 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 there was a temptation to make that my metanarrative as is the case for many performers. Our metanarritive produces our primary self-observed identity: "I'm an actor." "I'm a quarterback." "I'm a good person."

Here's the point - none of these things are my true metanarrative - the biggest story that I align with, or more accurately, the biggest story that has made me who I am. (See Chesterton quote below.) My big story is not that I am an American, a caucasian, a pastor or a SAG member. My big story is that there is a living God who created all that is. He made us and we rejected him in order that we could live apart from him. Apart from him, though, our lives are meaningless, painful and shallow. My story is the story of a nation called Israel because my God selected that nation to reveal himself to the world. Again, through Israel, we rejected him. So he sent a real man named Jesus who called us from the world to follow him in order to be reunited with our God. He came to start a Kingdom ruled by Love that would never end. We rejected him too and killed him, but he was resurrected three days after he died. (I never said that my metanarrative was easy to believe.) His death also paid the price for our pattern of rejection and his resurrection set in motion a conspiracy to see evil conquered in the world through the power of love and life and hope. He then asked us to tell others the good news of our big story and to invite others into our story. This is evangelism to me. Inviting others to turn in all of their stories, including their biggest story, for the story of God and Jesus. It's kind of a ridiculous thing to ask of someone - to be willing to change their prime identity. But for those who are really ready for change (now I sound like a presidential candidate), for those who are ready for a new life, it really is good news.

" ... 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." - GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy


Derek Sweatman said...

great write-up, joe. i dig stopping by your site often; it makes mine look so remedial. thanks! (ha, ha)

your friend,
derek sweatman

Tim said...

great summary. Reading it, I just kept thinking "yes, yes...that's it."

And then I realized that this viewpoint is extremely confusing to the people I interact with of a different mindset and probably a key in their misunderstanding me...

Greg said...

Good stuff, Joe. I think we all tend to get caught up in what's closest to us, to identify in what we do, or even who is around us... which is all part of who we are, but the core is so much simpler, yet bigger. The paradoxes (paradoxa?) of the kingdom.

God keeps stripping away all of the extraneous stuff for me, and his kingdom and the gospel continue to get simpler, and simpler. Live loved, and give love.

(just trying to come up with a clever rhyme...) :-)

Sandy S. said...

AMEN . . .

Does Chesterton sound a bit like Rich Mullins or is it the other way around or not at all?

Also, I'm not sure any generation has totally figured itself out - a label is put on it and everyone goes along for the ride, as if it were some kind of requirement. Kind of weird. . . it is almost like Christianity just keeps cycling through the same stuff, like fashion or music, and yet the message of the Kingdom of God has remained the same (humans just keep trying to play "dress up" with it).

Micah said...

Heh. I've got a great 5-minute rant (except that I usually package it as "training") on stories as the currency of community...

personal narrative = my story (the stuff of my past. knowing it means, in part, knowing me)

interpersonal narrative = our story (the stuff of our past. we know each other, in part, because we've done stuff together)

meta-narrative = god's story (duh. if nothing else, we can be in community because of Whose story we both buy into)

I stole it all from somebody, I'm sure, but I have no idea who.