Monday, October 14, 2013

Don't Settle for an Uninspiring Story

Speaking truth to yourself is fine and good, but telling yourself a story that opens your heart, fires your imagination, and inspires a new way of seeing is far better. Don't settle for an uninspiring story.

Created in God's image, we are story tellers. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are composing narratives all the time. We can't help it because we bear the image of the divine story teller. The question is not are we making up stories, but how good and true are those stories?

We are tempted to defer to those who are gifted story tellers, creative types—poets, novelists, clowns. Certainly, there are some who are called to tell our collective story, to reveal truths that can only be told with the poetic imagination. But we put ourselves at risk if we forego the God given gift and responsibility of story telling.

First of all, we make sense of the confusing and often contradictory facts of life by placing them in the context of a story. If we are passive and fail to actively co-author our story with God, we are stuck with the meta-narrative that we received from our family of origin and the society within which we were formed. In fact, the better the story we tell, the closer we are to the truth. The truth I'm referring to here is not simple scientific facts, which can be stated outside the context of story, but the meaning and significance of one's life.

(The truth of God's presence and activity in history could not be told in simple propositional statements, tempted as we have been in our scientific age to reduce "the mysteries of the faith to objects of affirmation or negation when they ought to be the object of contemplation." (Weil) In scripture the truth is revealed in a myriad of metaphors, symbols, parables—some told, some lived. The power of the kingdom of heaven lies not in force, but in being an alternative to the story of empire.)

Secondly, we come to be known by the telling of our story. Which has the double benefit of saving us from loneliness and from self delusion. The more authentically we tell our story to those who have proven worthy to hold it, the more truly we are known—which is itself profoundly healing—and the less likely we are to have delusions about our motives and capacities.

Lastly, if we are to obey the primary commandment to love God with our whole heart, and our neighbor as ourselves—and not merely act as if we love—we must see ourselves inside the greater story of God, the good news of God's presence and activity in everything, especially God's image in our neighbor, who, as often as not, because of our poor vision, looks to us like "the least of these." My story in your story, your story in mine, our story inside the good news of God's story.

David Norling


Paul T. Corrigan said...

David, Thank you for this beautifully written encouragement to the act of creativity and of telling our stories. Testimony has been an important practice (and art) in Christianity since the beginning. I love how you call storytelling a "gift and responsibility."

Anna Cotton said...

David, I love stories, so your title got my attention right away! This post is especially meaningful to me right now because for the past three weeks I've been a daily companion to Rickey's mom while his sister took a break and went with her husband for a much needed getaway. At 90 years old, Sybil is losing her strong connection to us all. She can, however, still read and she loves looking at photographs. With that thought in mind, I found myself creating a book for her, I am Sybil. In it, she is doing her daily activities; brushing her teeth, taking her meds, going for a walk, sitting in the garden, etc. The short sentences are in first person. Some of the pictures include staff helpers and some include family visitors. At the end of the book, I put a picture of her in bed with her blanket tucked under her chin. She is smiling. I wrote, "I am loved and helped by many people. Now I can go to sleep peacefully." The story is a simple one---we can experience God's love through the people connected to us. This is really good news, isn't it!?

RC said...

Wow! Very wise insights and very good writing! Thank you for sharing. I also loved Anna's connecting your post to my mother's current status. Your post relates to what I often call the "real deal" or the "real work" of our lives. I really appreciate your sharing this way and want to contribute to you and all of us living out these kinds of dynamics.

David Norling said...

Lovely to hear such a story in response to this piece. And a wonderful example of actively fulfilling Imago Dei.

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