Thursday, February 24, 2011

you are SUCH a frickin' character

I am about to give you your Matrix Moment. So, please; do not panic.

This is the truth: you are living in a narrative that is being written, largely, by forces beyond your control. In a good many ways, you are a pawn.

Let me use myself as an example. I am the Caucasian, middle-class, college-educated, AmeriCanadian child of Protestant Evangelical missionary parents. These facts alone have exerted tremendous influence over the direction of my life. Because of them, I have shared a specific set of other human's lives, each of which has nudged my own in directions it would not otherwise have traveled. What is even more alarming, if you view the world as I do, is that all these environmental factors are part of the ongoing narrative direction being taken by a Master Storyteller, a largely-incomprehensible, terrifyingly-amorphous and decidedly-unsafe divine entity that lots of people (unable to handle the lack of control) have attempted (in a fool's errand) to squish down into three letters - "G", "O" , and "D."

All of this could could turn me into a fatalist if not for two additional beliefs. First, I believe (for reasons I won't bother to try to justify here) that this Master Storyteller is primarily motivated and characterized by Love. And second, I believe that because of the Love-character of this Master Storyteller, I have been given a marvelous gift - the capacity to collaborate tremendously in the telling of my own story.

This collaborative gift, which some people refer to as "free agency" or "free will," has often been dumbed down and crammed into parameters so narrow that they are extremely vulnerable to manipulation and control. This comes, I believe, from the paralyzing fear we all have of the great many things over which we do not have any control. This fear can only be overcome by accepting with gratitude all the things we can change, and realizing that the truth about ourselves and the divine cannot be contained in three letters, a formula, a person, a metaphor, or a relationship.

It is bigger than that, I think. It is a story. We are characters in that story - active, collaborative participants in the narrative strands that are making the Great Story, the one that we (all of us, including the Master Storyteller) are creating together.

This belief may just be narcissism or opportunism on my part. I have, after all, been spending a lot of time in the last while contemplating the structures and purposes of story. Nonetheless, here are four principles I have learned about stories; things that might help as you think about taking a more active role in your own tale.

One: Even though every character is equally real and equally significant, not every character gets fully fleshed out. Unlike a novel, play or film, characters in the Story of Life have the option - as both players and creative agents - to either step up and live, or fade into the background.

Two: A story is all about conflict and choices. Everything is conflict and everything is choice and guess what... there is only one choice: the choice between Love and not-Love. Love is creative, not-Love is destructive. Refuse to choose Love and you will be diminished and destroyed as your life choices are made  for you by whatever storyteller happens to be closest when you opt out. This is not a good thing. There's something about slavishly passive people that makes otherwise Loving people get real ugly, real fast.

Three: Stories have themes, and those themes are moved along by the interplay between the choices of the characters in the story. Stories are not about the individual stupidities that you and I perpetrate, or even the individual beauty and Love that we create. Rather, they are about the larger themes being borne out by the sum total of choices that make up our stories and the Story at large.

Four: The best theme a story can have - the only one worth telling - is that of Love triumphing. While Love doesn't always triumph in every little story, even when it seems to fail the best stories point by negation to the fact that it ought to win, and that every loss is a tragedy. By doing this, they point to faith in a Master Storyteller of Love - a hope worth fighting for.

Those four are, I hope, a good jumping-off point. They are not an answer, because when final answers are told, the story stops and it all begins to degenerate into a math textbook. Mathematics are useful (and part of the Story), but it is the very ambiguity and questioning exploration of a story, I think, that is its greatest strength. Stories are complex, flexible, surprising, conversative, and fun. They lift us out of the detritus of our daily lives - fraught as they are with the destruction we have wrought - and allow us to imagine ourselves into endings that are more and more our own.

This is the gift of a Master Storyteller who loves us enough to step out of the way and let us speak for ourselves.

So pick up your life, today, and write.

6 comments:

  1. It is refreshing how you look at Christianity without being fake about it. Thank you for that.

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  2. You are welcome. I try, every once in a while, to wipe off the face paint and pluck off my big, red nose. It's hard, though.

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  3. Love this: "the divine cannot be contained in three letters, a formula, a person, a metaphor, or a relationship. It is bigger than that, I think. It is a story. You are a character in that story - an active, collaborative participant in one of the narrative strands that is making the Great Story, the one that we (all of us, including the Master Storyteller) are creating together."

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  4. Stumbled across this, and I really appreciate it.

    I think it's helpful, though, to point out that those "three letters" that "lots of people (unable to handle the lack of control) have attempted (in a fool's errand) to squish" God into aren't three arbitrary letters. In fact they are his name, which fits better into our view of grand narrative anyway. Because God's not just an "entity;" he is a Person. And he's not just the Master Storyteller; he is also the main character. But as characters go, he isn't being developed (as we human characters are); he's being revealed. Awesome.

    Again, thanks for the post.

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  5. Okay, so... yes - I left an obnoxious response to you, Anonymous. I have now deleted it. By way of explanation-not-excuse, I had just had a pretty wrenching, not-good experience and I think I may have been deflecting some of the emotion I didn't want to experience onto you. I am normally not that snarky, and you said nothing that would deserve my obnoxiousness. My apologies.

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  6. Thanks Josh. I can understand that. Hope whatever was going on settles out ok.

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