“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life” — Deuteronomy 30:19
I am a Christian (Mennonite) pastor. One of my jobs is to remind people that the story of faith they profess must always be a story that leads to life, and never death. This is true of all authentic faiths. I am convinced we literally live and die by the stories (or narratives) we tell ourselves.
In the religious world, clergy folk work with what writers, psychologists, and philosophers call “meta-narratives.” This is to say we speak of a large, eternal story in which our smaller, personal story resides. In the Christian faith, the meta-narrative is a biblical story of God’s overarching love for imperfect people. For me as a preacher, good interpretation passes through the lens of one question: “Is the story life-giving or not?” If the story is “not life-giving,” then it is unworthy of my time.
If a story is to be life-giving for me, I may have to abandon unhelpful theological narratives. I may need to let go of narratives that make God into a vengeful judge; or cause one to hide in shame; or suggest that one group of human beings is more “chosen,” “saved,” or “loved” than another group.
In contrast, Jesus taught and lived out of a narrative of peace, justice, love, and compassion. Furthermore, if you believe the resurrection story, as I do, then resurrection is also a grand narrative that says, Love (God) always wins. In the end, resurrection says that nothing — not cruelty, not meanness, not ignorance — nothing can separate us from God’s love.
As one who lives out of the Christian narrative, I see things through my own “faith lens.” My smaller, personal stories are informed by my meta-narrative. If the narrative I carry around in my head is based in fear, selfishness, exploitation, greed, or division, it’s not resurrection/life giving, and therefore not true. However, if my narrative is grounded in connection, community, unity, justice, sharing, trust, and compassion, it is a worthy, “resurrection” narrative because it leads to life.
We live in times in which there are many false and destructive narratives. False narratives about race, and nationhood. False narratives that tell us who to trust and who to hate. False narratives of “alternative facts” that ignore reality and science. We live in times that are saturated with bad stories that heighten anxiety and lead to separation and death. These are stores that cause us to mistrust, to hoard, or to go out and buy semi-automatic weapons. These are stories that set citizens against one another and cause nations to go to war. These are narratives that twist what is good and make it evil. These are narratives that allow some who call themselves Christians to act in the most un-Christlike ways.
My point is this: stories and narratives matter! Our spiritual and psychological well-being depends upon the narratives we adopt. And more importantly, our collective survival depends upon the narratives we adopt.
I’m not writing this article to convince you that my faith narrative is more correct than yours. I am writing to challenge you to choose your narratives well. Choose ones that call you toward life and away from death.
I encourage you to ask yourself a few questions. What are the narratives you live by? Do these narratives lead to greater love of God, self, and others? Do they lead to a sense of well-being? If so, you’re on the right track! If not, then it is time to seriously re-evaluate.