A New Story for a New World

The late Jesuit priest and psychologist Anthony De Mello once commented that the shortest distance between the human heart and truth is simply a good story. 

There is something incredibly relevant about that statement.  As the world shrinks, as the impact of globalization takes full effect, we are left with an ever greater realization that each of us, almost seven billion people, exist within a story connecting our heart to the truths that we inhabit.  But what does that actually mean?  What is a “story,” when used as I’ve just used it?  Some might wonder if I’m implying that we each are living in fantasy, pseudo-realities.  And if  that is the case, if every member of the human family exists within a narrative of some sort, then aren’t all such stories arbitrary and therefore equal?

What Do I Mean by “Story?”

First, when I say the word story–what I mean is a broad or sweeping set of guiding generalities that we base many of our actions on.  This often takes the form of literal narratives.  In ancient cultures they understood their origins through rich and vibrant accounts focusing on the relationships of mythic beings and feats of power or might.  Today we too tell such tales. Some have described the Theory of evolution as such.  Or the ideal of cultural progress. Or consumption. Or currently global warming.  These are vast and complex descriptions that somehow give meanings to our every day actions and direct us in our choices. 

Recently my mother told me how she was changing dietary habits, trending towards local, seasonal, and organic based upon a riveting set of sermons she listened to by an evangelical Christian pastor.  Apparently the minister traced the role of food and diet all the way through the Bible, laying a strong case for modern day healthy living.  This is a great example of how a narrative that she is completely absorbed by is capable of dictating how she interacts with the every day world.  And we all do this, whether we know it or not.  Consider that some one else might listen to the clergyman and not be inspired to change their eating at all. But the moment they visit the doctor and view their charts, they find all the impetus they need to make a shift.  Why? Because they too are living in a story. It may not be a 2000 year old conglomeration of poetry, prose, and prophecy–no, but it is a distinctly post-Enlightenment one…a story that values science, progress, and professionalization as the impacting realities to be dealt with.  My point is really very simple, whether pre or post modern, each of us exists and governs our lives according to some sort of script. Our lives demand that we summon things such as ancient texts, communities, traditions, utilitarianism, or authority to give meaning and direction.

Some are more equal than others….

This brings me to my second point, and a question that weighs heavily on many peoples mind.  If we acknowledge that each member of the human family is governed by a set of stories that gives meaning to their actions, in other words–they are almost arbitrary, does that mean that all such stories are equal? 

I would like to reassure by saying–no…I don’t believe all stories are equal.  In fact–I would say that there are some stories that are down right useless and even harmful.  Again, I’m reminded of a family connection.  I have a two year old son named Judah.  When he was a little over a year old I walked into the kitchen to discover him wearing his cereal bowl as a hat.  Under different circumstances this might have been cute.  But as the milk and Cheerios slid down his face and onto the floor, it didn’t seem so adorable–to either of us.  Judah was screaming.  I was miffed. What had gone wrong?  Well, nothing actually.  Judah was simply making an interpretive choice.  In his reality the bowl could double as a hat.  And why not?  While this isn’t an air tight case I’m trying to build here, I would say this: because, it just didn’t work.  In the context–bowl filled with milk and cereal, in the community–Judah, myself, and the floor, this was a poor interpretive choice.  

I’m using that as a simple illustration to communicate the reality that while interpretations or stories or the way we view the world may be arbitrary or even equally valid–they are hardly equal.  In fact there are rather complex ways we can evaluate the validity of such a story.  Does the present context validate what is being said or acted on? Does the present community confirm the reality being expressed?  And finally, perhaps most intangibly, I would like to hearken back to Aristotle–is it good? Does it serve the Common Good?  It was expressed slightly differently by the 1st century apostle Paul when he said, “whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is lovely–on these things dwell.” 

A New Story for a New World

I have come to believe, along with many others, that our culture is in desperate need of a new story–a new set of generalizing touch points to draw meaning into our lives and evaluate our present/future.  Like Judah, my son, there is a need to realign our interpretations with our present context and more immediate global community. The “old stories” that much of current cultural norms are based off of, feel inadequate in explaining the complexity of the hyper-shift that is being experienced in social emergence.  Indeed, how could the old narratives of tribalism, magic, or even “raw objective data” be expected to deal with such endemic changes?  The worlds that birthed such viewpoints are now long dead.  It is time that we put on new attire that matches our conditions and our realities–just as our ancestor’s did for theirs.

 What will the flavor of this new story be? 

First, it will–it must–be one that embraces a holistic or integrative perspective.  We can no longer afford hyper compartmentalization. As the philosopher Sartre once said, “Our morality cannot simply go on holiday.”  The new story will not separate body from soul, profit from price, consumption from cost, science from religion, adama from adam (earth from human) or the countless other arbitrary distances that the post-enlightenment have applied. 

Second, the new story will embrace a sense of wonderment and play.  The old god of frontal lobe cognition must eventually bow before the Trickster and acknowledge the need for mystery.  This doesn’t mean blind faith–but rather hopeful acknowledgement of complexity of the universe and even of ourselves. Such a position expands the heart into the traditional terrain of the mind and allows for inquisitive investigation issuing into imaginative experiment.

Third, the new story must begin to view the transcendent as immanently available to us in the form of every living being. Loving God has never looked so much like loving your neighbor…

Finally, the new story must value the human capacity for choice and decision while acknowledging that such choices are often nested in limiting or narrowing eco-systems.  In other words we are responsible for our actions…but there are also elements outside of our immediate control.  What is important is our intentioned action towards betterment.  Knowing that we may fail, knowing that we probably will not accomplish all that there is to do, we press on towards the goal. 

In the next few weeks I, along with Frank Spencer, Mike Morrell, and Kevin Beck will be discussing what a new story for a new world might look like. I value your comments. I’d like to invite you to take the journey with us and contribute your own vision to the unfolding narrative. Let me know if you post on this topic. Let’s get this thing started.

Rumi, Movement, and Leaving my car a mystery

This morning I was listening to Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippetts. This particular show was on the Sufi poet and teacher, Rumi.  The guest quoted Rumi as having said something beautiful connected to the dance of the Dervishes, and it connects to several other thoughts I’ve been having lately. 

If you don’t plow the Earth it becomes hard and nothing will grow on it.  Just plow the earth of yourself–get moving. Don’t ask exactly what will happen—simply begin to move and see what comes of it.

Similarly, though in another vein, I remember someone saying something along the lines of keeping their car a mystery.  When asked for further clarification he said, ” If I take my car apart I’ll probably understand it better, but it just won’t drive any more.” 

This twin sense of simply beginning to move, to spin in circles, to plow the other, to resist taking the car apart, seems noteworthy this morning. 

Who do I say I love when I love my God…a promise…a call…a mystery…a Love and a Lover… and these are the things I myself become as I join that dance.

The Ultimate Question & Answer

Americans have become conditioned to believe the world is a gray place without absolutes; this is because we’re simultaneously cowardly and arrogant.  We don’t know the answers, so we assume they must not exist. But they do exist. They are unclear and/or unfathomable, but they’re out there… Chuck Klosterman “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs”

Fascinanting. He goes on to say that most of those answers are found locked up within the statistics of the NBA over the last 20 years. Brilliant!  And it sort of reminds me of that moment in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” where we discover that the answer to the Ultimate Question of the Universe is 42.  And that opens up a HUGE can of worms because no one can remember what exactly the question was in the first place. 

Anyhow…I suspect that this is more like reality than less…the answers are the things we live with and pass by every day…it’s the questions that we work to figure out. 

A quote from my visit to “The Bridge” PDX,  “we work to demystify love and honor God as Mystery and Paradox”…so cool.

Experiments in Truth

More people than I can number or name entrust me with their confession of (non)faith.  Oh, it’s not exactly that they’re faithless.  Actually they tend to be far more faith filled than the religions they are shedding.  They are scared and uncertain, tired or bored, confused or distressed; they don’t readily see the final “vision”; in other words they are the epitome of those who “walk not by sight”…  And, they are done.  They are true believers who have been burned, hurt, torn apart by a thousand inconsistencies.  I love these people.  They are my people. 

Some of my friends, such as I’ve described above, project an image of not caring.  They say, in word and deed, that they don’t care about relgion, spirituality, or faith.  Ironically, they are usually those who care and have cared the most.  It is precisely because they care strongly that they are dissapointed.  We expect much out of that we idealize.  Isn’t that what causes such deep rage as we hear KKK members spout orthodox prayers and pleas towards God?  Isn’t that why its so disgusting when we here of a Catholic priest become predator?  Isn’t that why we feel so disturbed when faiths digress into violent fundamentalism sponsoring Crusades or Jihads?  We expect more.  We expect more from “the friends of God”.  And we should.

Here’s the thing…

Beauty hints at things that lie beyond the edges of our vision.  Something in us, crying out for fair play, demands justice–in ourselves and in the world around.  And, even though we find ourselves isolated and lonely, we long for relationships, for intimacy, for love.  This, truth, beauty, justice, love, is the Divine, is God.  They are not only attributes, they are the Person.  So, the very things we long for, the things are not right with the world of religion and faith, that we wish would change, are the very things that must change if they are to be real and true.  The dissapointment in the lack of those aspects is actually the outcrying for God’s Presence, and perhaps the evidence of the Presence itself. 

In other words…we aren’t alone. 

Our hunger bears witness to the existence of Bread. 

But that’s all jargon, isn’t it?

Beyond that…this is what I’m convinced of.  The person of Jesus described God in a way that is still intoxicating to me. I’m pretty sure he, and his radical way of living that he proclaimed, was on to something.  Life spent in the way of Jesus  changes things…at least I imagine it would.  It’s an experiment I wouldn’t mind testing out.  Ghandi called them “experiments in truth”.  What would life look like if… How would my relationships, the neighborhood, this area, this country, be different if I…

If I what? 

If I took Jesus seriously, if I tried the life he described. 

And then even bigger than that…what if I tried this with others?  Fellow scientists testing our hypothesis. Success or failure. Right or wrong.  Comparing notes. Taking a journey together. 

I read a book about writing recently. The author said an intruiging thing. He commented that writing isn’t something you can theorize about…it’s only something you can do.  You become a better writer by writing. You learn certain skills only by performing them.  I can’t help but think this is the nature of discipleship, of apprenticeship. 

Sadly religion, and as it’s my own faith tradion–Christianity, has detached the positional “beliefs” from the practice.  We believe in justice. We believe in mercy. We believe in love. But we practice dishonesty and greed and war.  Seperate the practice of life in the way of Jesus from Jesus and what do you get?  Dissapointment.  Detachment.  Nothing worth believing in. 

And I think that may just be the point of all this…as my friends confess their (non)faith to me, I’d love to make an invitation.  I’d like to invite them to do something counter cultural…at least it runs counter to the culture of religion most of us have grown up with…. Let’s experiment with truth.  Instead of believing into a new way of living, let’s live into a new way of believing. 

How’s that sound?

Entering Mystery

Songs for me, and particularly the personal writing of songs, are a prophetic thing.  I rarely know why I write what I do–they more or less flow out in built in rivers of word and melody.  To be honest, I’ve never felt like I had much control over them; they are their own creatures and I get the opportunity to give birth to something I did not create and then watch it flower into fullness as a spectator and wonderer.  Maybe that sounds strange, it probably does, however it has left me feeling addicted to the process of creation.  I love writing music, mostly because the songs end up helping me understand something of myself.  Lately I’ve come to imagine that I am never so in touch with existing as a created being as when I myself am creating. It is in those moments that I feel fully present, not running off in this direction or that, not distracted by future worries or past grievances. And, I said, there is something prophetic about them. Sometimes, months later I’ll find myself saying, “Aha! That’s what this song was about.”  Interestingly, it will be an event that wasn’t even developed at the time of write, but fits fully and completely.

That having all been said, a song I wrote in the not too distant past has begun to give definition to this blip of my life.  I thought I’d share it with you:

“Entering Mystery, Your Truth and Your Beauty
To have found You and look for You is the paradox of Love
There must be more than this. There must be more than this.

How can you run the race without running? How can you press on without pressing in?
How can my soul be still until I have exhausted myself on You?

There must be more than this.”

Beyond

I’m learning that if we can approach God in reality at all it is in the simplicity of wonder and awe. It is in shining darkness and screaming silence. To have our eyes opened to the light of God is to be struck blind along with Saul of Tarsus. In that moment, the sightless eyes of our heart, can faintly make out the glory of God.

It’s not exactly the revelatory, joyful, ecstatic experiences I thought it would be…rather it is an ambiguous even doubting cry of “why have you forsaken me?” This absence of God is, for me, the presence of God…the fellowship of His suffering…the knowing of Christ crucified…powerless, weak, wondering, and looking towards a hope not yet realized. That’s the place I find myself in…and this too is Christ.

Trinity!! Higher than any being, any divinity, any goodness!

Guide in the wisdom of heaven!

Lead us up beyond unknowing and light,

up to the farthest, highest peak of mystic scripture

where the mysteries of God’s Word

lie simple, absolute and unchangeable

in the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence.

Amid the deepest shadow

they pour overwhelming light

on what is most manifest,

Amid the wholly unsensed and unseen

they completely fill our sightless eyes

with treasure beyond all beauty.

Losing the Wonder

The ancient stories of Scripture may require careful and disciplined interpretation, but if this dispels the sense of wonder in the telling, the extraordinary power of narrative and argument to create meaning out of nothing, to make things appear in the darkness of the future, then too high a price has been paid for our investigation”– (Andrew Perriman, THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN, pg 14)

in everything…whether in the intoxicatingly beautiful discovery that the kingdom is now, or in the approach to scripture as narrative, or in the re-engagement of ritual and rhythm, or in becoming the hands and feet of YHWH to the lost and the looking–the poor and the oppressed, or in the alarmingly exciting and endless discussions dancing around theology and praxis–heresy and heart breaking confession…in everything…I don’t want to lose the sense of wonder, the delight and God’s extraordinary power to create meaning out of nothing and to make the dark future appear bright and brilliant…

It is altogether to easy to become imminently focussed and forgetful of the hidden majesty hidden and hauntingly underneath the visible world…I find myself needy to rediscover inwardness…

god…I don’t want to lose the wonder.

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