Sunday, October 26, 2008

What Story, Indeed?

But of course, one is blessed and challenged by a particular story. One’s own particular story. As that story intersects and interpenetrates and morphs into and out of all the other stories that are proximate to one’s own. A story that is informed by many distant ones that books and plays and art and movies and videos and lives and conversations and relationships bring home.

A story that at every moment of one’s life, one is writing, revising, rewriting, remembering, interpreting, mulling, considering, reconsidering, piecing together, imagining both retroactively and proactively, sorting out, making sense of, repudiating, embracing, rebelling against, reconciling oneself to, asking forgiveness for, asking guidance concerning, and pretending is something it isn’t. One is the most active participant in the making and remaking and discovering and rediscovering and obfuscating and denying of what one’s story actually is.

I’m reminded of Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner’s terrible wonderful novel of the South. A novel that is about story-making in the context of certain destructive and dominant ideas in the 18th and 19th and 20th century American South. And it is about story-discovering on the part of multiple narrators who are all participants in the larger story of a self-destructive family that does have certain resemblances to King David’s family. Hence, the novel’s title. I’m reminded of this particular novel because it is a favorite of a fellow who I had lunch with today.

It is a commonplace in many churches today to talk about story. About stories in the Bible. About one’s particular story. And it is usual to talk about one’s particular Christian story as one’s “testimony.” I find this way of thinking and talking odd on several counts.

First, I find it odd that one’s story and one’s testimony are conflated. Are made out to be one thing, when in fact they are not. One’s story is an ongoing thing. It is much larger than the several selected and related events that one recounts publicly to connect one to the Christian story of love, forgiveness, and resurrection.

Second, I find that testimony is a story of a particular kind—a story that gathers its meanings around the courtroom metaphor. In other words, the metaphorical context is judgment, not marriage or resurrection or celebrating or the rescuing of the lost. And this is not consistent with the metaphors Jesus likes to use with the sinners and common people to whom he ministers by acting out and telling his stories.

Third, we do know that story-making is complex. Much more complex than the testimonies that we use to entertain ourselves and one another. We live inside many stories, and the authors of these larger stories are multitudes. We are characters in hundreds, thousands, perhaps many billions of stories simultaneously. We are the intersections of history, the eternal now, and the future, each of us. Each of us relates one another to one another through time and timelessness.

Fourth, we are spirit vessels and our lives are the expression of spirit, the out-working of spiritual matters. And our stories, to the extent they represent our spirit-selves truly, employ an infinite palate of metaphor. Of trope and figure. Because everywhere they go they are informed by the Manifold, the Infinite, the Mystery of God.

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