Society: What’s Your Story?

I have long believed that the man who spurns the Christian faith outright is more respected before God and the heavenly powers than the man who pretends to religion but refuses to come under its total domination. The first is a an overt enemy, the second a false friend.
-A.W. Tozer, The Warfare of the Spirit

“The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians. Who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, but walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.”
~Brennan Manning

One workable definition of a hypocrite is a person who does not actively live out the stories he or she claims to value…Even the most powerful and affirming story becomes significant to me only when it moves from being a story to being my story. That is why the acid test for any movement—religious, political, social—is whether or not the next generation of adherents will embrace and give continued life to the stories of the founders.
~ Daniel Taylor, Tell Me a Story; Bog Walk Press, 1996. p. 86.

Among the quotes related to this theme ought to be one from my friend John Alexander who died several years ago. In his book called The Secular Squeeze He pointed out that the way people know whether a story is true is by the lives of those who tell it.

Yes.

Lately, I’ve been intrigued by the power of story, the need for a narrative tradition. Without a common history or heritage, one into which we can place ourselves, we are a random lot, a mere gathering of unrelated people. A crowded elevator, or a group of strangers clustered in the same vicinity along a parade route are just people. But the minute the group begins to share an experience they become related, however weakly. If the elevator loses power the random muddle begins the process of sharing history. In the darkness someone cracks a joke, or utters an expletive—strangers becoming known. At the parade the hours drag on, waiting for the pace car, the haphazard group begins to recognize and get a sense of one another. Shared history is not necessarily life-changing it can be merely shared experience.

It seems to me that opportunities for shared experience are waning in our increasingly isolated culture. It isn’t assumed that such a thing is even necessary. In our mediated world we are losing the joy, perhaps even the skill, of conversation.

In this respect I truly enjoy the company of good friends, but also of younger people 20 and 30 years my junior. Postmoderns? Ah, I don’t know—don’t care, really. What I do know is that the younger tribe has relearned the fine art of “hanging out.”

Where I’m going with this is toward a rediscovery of how to tell the story of Jesus. In the recent past we have been in danger of reducing the gospel story to a list of orthodox statements and proof texts about the way of salvation. “Getting saved” has been the goal, leaving us with the feeling that the story ends there.

But it doesn’t end there. My history doesn’t end with the salvation experience; it ought to begin with it. My life, as the quotes above suggest, ought to be consistent evidence that my story is different than it once was and that it is different because my story includes the story of Jesus, the one who re-wrote it.

One of the tragedies of losing a narrative tradition is that we haven’t internalized the story of Jesus and his followers well enough. We know the proof texts and the “plan of salvation,” but we can’t tell the story, the fireside version of how it all happened. We are so paranoid that we might misquote or misrepresent the story that we can’t articulate it easily as we would the story of the time we were trapped for an hour in an elevator. Consequently, much of society around us only has a fragmented understanding of the good news. The radical promise of an eternal destiny and the joy of the community between the worlds are lost in a list of revised statutes and spiritual policies.

Here’s what I’ve been up to: I’ve been learning the gospel story afresh. I’m not memorizing verses, I’m re-imagining the story one event at a time. I started with the Sermon on the Mount, now I’m working on the whole gospel story. I want it to flow freely at the dinner table. I want it to come alive around a campfire somewhere. Maybe I want to tell it on a street corner. I never pictured myself as a street preacher, but I think I could be a storyteller. I think a lot of us could. In the process, I bet our personal life stories would better reflect–better inform–life between the worlds. We can become the new order of bards, telling the heroic tales of the king. If the society around us is to believe the story we must.

Next Time: Jesus Circle

2 thoughts on “Society: What’s Your Story?”

  1. The “single greatest cause of atheism” quote is by Brennan Manning, though many people know it from the DC Talk song “What if I Stumble?”

    I think there’s a lot to be said for hanging out and telling stories. I’ve been reading the website of a local bicycle gang (for lack of a better term) that seems to have a big following. Why do people join them? Because they hang out and tell a good story. Reading their website, /I/ find myself wanting to join them. They’ve found something they love. They live it out. They share the excitement with others.

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