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Posts Tagged ‘stories’

The Book of Wisdom

September 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Danielle LaPorte posted this delightful video about the making of the book Wisdom. I like it for several reasons. Aesthetically, it appeals to me. But deeper than that I like the spirit of the project. Andrew Zuckerman respects the wide range of people he meets (and we meet in the video).

He values the voices of elders (something so deeply needed in our day). He researches their lives, their thought, their stories. But he is primarily interested in their relationships and their personal lives as opposed to their great accomplishments.

It blessed me, hopefully it will bless you as well.

Crossing Time and Space Through Story

July 21, 2008 Leave a comment

Storytelling allows me to moves across time and space. The grand story provides a foundation for movement across all stories. When I move through stories, I am entering the world of other people. I am entering their time (memories and vision) and their space (body and place).

I can move through stories (worlds) on multiple pivots points. Think of the elements of story: setting, dialogue, character, plot, symbols, mood, and pace. I can connect stories at one or multiple points. So I might move back through in the characters of stories. Take the king or ruler. I can read and experience the many variations of rulers across time through stories written in and about differing time periods.

The rulers make differing decisions, the rulers may be good or evil, the rulers may be young or old. In spite of their differences, they play the same characters. They are rulers because they rule. So I watch and experience their rule in different settings, times, and world. As I watch and listen and experience their worlds, I might see glimpses of my own world. I might gain insight into the rulers of my world or my own ruling decisions.

I can start with setting working our from my home to a variety of domestic dwellings revealed in stories from mud huts to castles. Each setting creates a place where relationships happen. So each setting speaks something of how place influences relationship and how relationships define space.

I might look at symbolic colors of red or white or black. Or I might consider the changing pace in stories from my world to ancient worlds. I might see how the same plot is replayed and repeated in different ages.

Each element of a story can be thought of like a jazz standard. Just as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock might play the same song or standard, they’ll interpret it in light of their own world. Their perspective will highlight unique nuances of the song and capture different experiences based on the time and place of the recording. Thus stories and story elements might be like jazz standards that are reworked in various ways across time and space. If I choose to explore these shifting expressions, I will take an element and watch how it is reworked in various times and places.

So I might learn to listen to other stories. First, I might learn to listen to the stories of the people around me, paying attention to all the elements. Then I might also pay attention or listen to the stories of my culture, other cultures and other times. Each of these elements and stories will shine new light into my own story.

Then I might work through these many stories to the grand story. The Christian story provides a fundamental influence on people born in the Western world. Even though many people see this narrative as a shackle from which they desire to be free, they still require a story to make sense of the world. The West has been so deeply shaped by this story, it is difficult to shake free from it.

They may curse the story but even their curses comes from the power of this narrative which affirms the individual human as distinct (with the ability to curse and bless). As opposed to narratives which deny our individuality and see that individuality as an illusion. In those worldviews, the curse that I utter is still an illusion of my own independence.

So for my reflections, I’ll try to consciously think and talk about how the Christian story provides a narrative that connects all stories. Back to my example of stories about rulers: I can work through all the various stories on leaders and kings and managers and people who rule. Then I can encounter the Biblical narrative.

In this narrative, Jesus is presented is the “ideal ruler” against the backdrop of other rulers such as Herod and Caesar. The sharp contrast of Jesus with other kings in his story and the stories throughout Scripture raises challenging questions about what it means to rule and how a ruler behaves.

I picked an obvious archetype of ruler. But how do I deal with lawyer or plumber or other character? What about mom or sister or friend? If I move beyond characters can I root setting or symbol or dialogue in a grand story? The particularities can be challenging and may not be as obvious as ruler.

But if G.K. Chesterton is correct and Jesus is the story in which all stories intersect, then I can work through each particular story element and find the roots in His story. This may require a deeper understanding of how I encounter Jesus in the story of Scripture. I think most people start with the gospels and try to think of the events of his life.

But actually the Emmaus road story (Luke 24:13-35) indicates that all of Scripture is witnessing to the story of Jesus. So I need eyes to learn how to read this grand narrative and begin to hear and see how His story is unfolded in the midst of stories about Abraham, Moses, David and so on. This is not something I do overnight, but rather I gradually work through this grand narrative, learning slowly and by God’s grace how to see the points of intersection and how to see the light of grace shining deep into the recess of my own story that is filled with pain, struggle, darkness and loss.

My Story, Other Stories and the Story

July 21, 2008 Leave a comment

There are three levels of stories for each person. The personal story, the universe of stories and over-arching story connecting all stories.

Personal Story
I have a story that is really a set of many stories with me in the center. So normally if I think I my story, I am thinking of myself as the central character in the story. While I play a role in the stories of many other people, if I tell my story, I am telling it from the center. No matter how much I try to diminish my presence or perspective, I can’t tell a story outside of my imagination. If I read or act or direct or simply print another story, I will still influence with my perspective through the way I tell the story. My vocal inflection, my characterization, my decisions of motion or even my choice of typestyle influences the telling of the story.

So the first level of stories are stories told through the lens of my memory and vision with me as the center.

Universe of Stories
The second level of stories are stories from the world around me. My stories are within these stories. These are stories told by family and friends as well as strangers. Thus these stories are told from a center outside myself. Even if someone tells a story with me as the main character, it is still being told from their perspective, their world, their memories and vision. This level includes all stories from all history, so it includes great literature, plays as well as tales told and retold by friends and strangers. It is a brimming, exploding, unwieldy world of stories that start and move in endless directions.

Think of this second level like a universe with planets upon planets and galaxies upon galaxies. The vast web of stories extends beyond the ability of my imagination to even begin to grasp. This universe of stories contains every known and every possible story created by humankind. Every emotion, every plot, every character, every symbol, every detail from every human story is within this grand drama.

The Grand Story (Meta-Narrative)
The third level of stories is the grand story that connects all stories. This story provides the primary lens for all stories. Through this lens we define right and wrong/good and evil. Through this lens we can find points of connection with other stories. Through this story we define words and symbols and characters.

Many people never consciously identify this grand story. In other words, this story influences them in a passive manner. They may not be able to articulate a clear narrative even while appealing to that narrative to make sense of the world. For many, it operates in the background.

Some people suggests that there is no grand story, there is no meta-narrative. While they might deny the existence of an over-arching but they would have difficulty suggesting that we don’t unconsciously appeal to some kind of meta-narrative in the way we process our stories. Some people appeal to the grand story by appealing to our common humanity. This appeal is rooted in a grand story that suggests humans are connected by virtue of our humaness (aka – the brotherhood of man).

What is a story and What is my story?

July 18, 2008 Leave a comment

There are probably many ways to define a story and many fancy words to make the definition virtually unintelligible for the rest of us. I was thinking today that on a basic level most, if not all, stories contain a beginning, middle and end. Otherwise, it may simply be an observation. A story indicates motion or change that allows us to speak of a beginning, a middle and an end.

Why a middle? Why not a beginning and an end. Well, I was thinking the “middle” is the transition from beginning to end. No matter how long or short, it somehow connect the start from the finish. Now the telling of story can alter the order of beginning, middle and end in variations such as end, beginning and middle (and back to end again). The variations can be wide-ranging:

beginning, middle, beginning, middle, beginning, middle and end (this is the beginning constantly being redefined which alter the middle and leads to a different end).

middle, end, beginning (I can’t remember but I think memento worked like this).

The various ways we tell a story are not limited just to the structure. We also tell it from a perspective or a point of view. And I don’t just mean through different characters or an omniscient narrator. We might tell it from the point of view of a victim. The same story will look very different it told from the pov of a tireless hero.

Each story contains thousands of other stories. A good example is the Simarillion, where Tolkien tells some of the many stories before the Lord of the Rings. Our personal story works the same way. A story from my life can be as short and simply as the visit to a drive through window at a fast food restuarant. While I may not retell the story often, one day something happens that makes it memorable: bad service or maybe a surprise. That night I tell the “fast food restaurant” to my wife. If the reaction is strong and the story lodges in my memory it may be repeated. If it is really interested, it may be repeated by people beyond my circle of friends.

So stories can take on a life of their own.

The fast food story is one of a many possible stories within a given day. Additionally, there are epochal tracks or repeated scenes/event/stories that combine to former a larger story over time. These stories may be stories may have a defining center that connects them: husband and wife, family, identity, vocation, community, forgiveness, and so on. Different little stories within my life and connect and reconnect with different centers to tell the same story.

I may tell the story of vocation, explaining how I ended up as a bi-vocational minister. Some of the stories within that story when seen from a different angle might combine with other stories to tell the story of my identity. Then again the some of the stories might reform around another center and combine with other stories to tell the story of my 20-year love affair with my wife.

By thinking of my stories in this light, I might begin to see that the stories I tell are not actual events but events filtered through memory combined with imagination/creativity. So a story is creative work that I engage in. I don’t tell the meta story that overarches my life. God tells this story. Sometimes, I see glimpses of his story being told through me, but most often I am clueless as to the richness and fullness and connectedness of that story which connects all stories.

With in mind, I must realize that the story I am telling, I am creating. I am using characters, plots, settings, pace, mood, symbols and more to tell the stories. I have certain lines that I uses again and again, much like the move lines, “I’ll be baaaaaacck” or “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Rarely do we step back from our preoccupation with telling or thinking our own story to analyze. But sometimes it may be helpful.

I might try focusing on other characters. I might consider using a different pov, or a different tone. I might look for other symbols or lines or settings that are already inherent within my stories but I’ve overlooked. I might find a different center, a different connecting points for my little stories. By doing so, I might discover that I could tell my story as a story of sacrifice and suffering at the hands of other in a new way and recast it as a story of power, choice and heroic overcoming of struggles against all odds.

Enough for now. Hopefully, I’ll write more on how I connect my stories with other stories outside myself (literature, arts, history and even the Bible).

In Praise of School Teachers

June 26, 2008 Leave a comment

Bobi Jones lifts up an anthem of praises to school teachers. Drawing from a rich reserve of past Welsh icons, he compares them to the ploughman, the soldier, a preacher, and Orpheus.

As warrior people, the ancient Celts wrote warrior poems in praise of battles, great fighters, kings and triumphs. In the middle ages, a Welsh poet used to the warrior epic to write a poem of praise the ploughman. The ploughman is worthy of praise for his faithful tilling of the land that produces food for a nation and provides the very stuff of the Eucharist. So the ploughman ultimately unites the people together under God by his faithful labor.

Bobi draws from both images to write a warrior poem in praise of the exploits of teachers:

Ploughman of the daily children! Solider of a nation!
I will praise the chalk of your hair while I have breath.

The image of ploughman, soldier and preacher combine in the teacher as one who tills the soil of the young hearts, wars with ignorance and the threat of losing the Welsh language and identity, and the preacher who connects the student of the present with the great communion of saints in the Welsh past. By telling the stories, by remembering, the teacher keeps alive a people who survive as distinctly Welsh against the onslaught of the surrounding culture.

…The clichés of education
Are charmed into adventure by your modest cherishing,
Our country’s past turned into the following day.

In this beautiful poem of praise, I encounter the exalted role of the teacher who fights daily in the rich battle of the Welsh people to preserve their story, their language, their life-blood from generation to generation. The teacher’s words create the future through the children. Creating the future may mean change but it also means connecting the generations.

The teacher is connecting the students to the soil of their being that will inspire them to move forward with the vision of their people in new challenges and contexts:

A land’s in a man; and through it he opens out lands
Like dawn reaching a pageant of fingers toward them.
You’re the river across their ears as well; the waterfall that carries them,
Sparks for a sun, earth and water of their searchings.

In a world where the pressure of homogeneity constantly threaten the identity of the faithful, the poem resounds as a clarion call to keep the vital life of memory alive in our stories, in our classrooms, in our children. It reminds me of Eugen Rosenstock Huessy’s exclamation that our present action is created by looking back to the past and forward to the future.

We are a forgetful people. We forget our names, our landmarks, our stories, our heritage. Without the stories of our past, we face a storyless future or a future filled with stories that submit to the demands of the trends that drive our culture from moment to moment. We need the bards to come forth and sing us awake into the memory of our heritage and our call forward:

A wraith’s in a river; you are Orpheus, rippling
Before each little life, bubbling up
Towards a free world of men, leading them from the dark
Without once looking back to their empty well-spring.

Stories upon Stories upon Stories

June 15, 2008 Leave a comment

The Bible is not simply one story but many stories. And these stories form patterns that are repeated again and again. For example, the creation story appears in Gen 1 and Gen, but then variations of the creation story reapper throughout the scripture in places like Job, Proverbs 8, John 1 and Romans 1. Each story reflects a different aspect of the pattern.

Some of the many stories appearing in the Scriptures include:

The story of the Law

The story of Sojourn

The story of Slavery and Exodus

The love story between a Groom and Bride

The story of Father’s and Sons

The story of rebellion and redemption.

These are just some of the many stories that appear, reappear and reappear again. All these stories might and probably would have seem disconnected. But Jesus comes and fulfills/embodies every story. All the stories are flowing in and out from Him.

These stories might also be thought of as bardic songs. The ancient Celtic bards would sing songs of adventure and love and nature and war to the people. Their songs not only entertained but also helped forge a common memory of the tribe.

As we read the story (and sometimes realize we are acting in some of the story patterns), we also discover that we are being forged into a common memory of a family that spans time from beginning to end.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar speaks of the complexity of interwoven stories. He calls this a “symphony,” ” a dance fo sound.” Here are few of his thoughts on symphony from the classic treasure, Truth is Symphonic – Aspects of Christian Pluralism.

In his revelation, God performs a symphony, and it is impossible to say which is richer: the seamless genius of his compositions or the polyphonous orchestra of Creation that he has prepared to play it. Before teh Word of God became man, the world orchestra was “fiddling” about without any plan: world views, religions, different concepts of the state, each one playin gto itself. Somehow there is the feeling that this cacophonous jumble is only a “tuning up”: the A can be heard through everything, like a kind of promise. “In and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets…” (Heb 1:1). Then came the Son, the “heir of all things,” for whose sake the whole orchestra had been put together. As it performs God’s symphony under the Son’s direction, the meaning of its variety becomes clear….Initially, (the musicians) stand or sit next to one another as strangers, in mutual contradiction, as it were. Suddenyl the music begins, they realize how there are integrated. Not in unison, but what is far more beautiful–in sym-phony.

Thank You C.S. Lewis

May 24, 2008 1 comment

I just finished The Last Battle, and my heart was stirred afresh by the cries, “Further Up and Further In!” My fourth grade teacher introduced our class to C.S. Lewis by reading portions from the Chronicles of Narnia each day in class. Then I read the books myself, and it was the first time as a youth that I had any longing for the kingdom of God. I didn’t know what I was longing for until I was older, but Lewis’s words awoke this yearning that only grew as I grew older.

Recently I listened to all the audio books again (and realized that I think I somehow skipped the Silver Chair as a youth). After all these years the stories still worked their magic. I felt foolish driving down the road blubbering at various transcendent points in the tales.

So thank you C.S. Lewis for you gift of another world. You helped to train my eyes to see glimpses of the kingdom around me and my ears to hears echoes of a new creation song.

Living Amid the Ruins

April 9, 2008 Leave a comment

Almost four years ago I wrote about the fall of modern structures, suggesting that gatekeepers like government, media, church, and education were crumbling due to their reliance on a modern worldview that had collapsed. Later I was to discover that 30 years earlier, Ivan Illich had been thinking and writing in a far more comprehensive way on a similar theme.

As some people proclaim they are tired of church, others proclaim they are tired of voting. In fact, there is a great deal of disappointment and distrust of church, government, science, universities, and more. Whenever frustrations move from personal, localized distrust to mass distrust then something is not working in the society. I think this is a sign of breakdown of the Western world

Today while I was driving over to eat dinner with our little community, I started thinking of ways to better explain what I mean by the end of the Western world.

When we speak of the Western world, we generally refer to the commonality of cultures between people of Western Europe (including US and Canada). While the local languages may differ, there are certain common symbols that guide our way communicating, impacting the way we think and act. These symbols are rooted in a common core that reaches back to the forces that shaped our modern Western world: Christianity and Greek philosophy.

Even though many people reject Christianity and have never studied Greek philosophy, these symbols still shape the way they see the world. If we look backward into an earlier era such as the Medieval world, we are looking back to a time/place when people shared a different symbol set. The symbols may include a certain set of rituals such as the Latin Mass and a set of Holy Days. While there where local variations, the common mass and the common calendar defined a way of experiencing life and communicating life.

Each local area may express and develop the symbols uniquely through particular types of clothing, speech pattern, songs, dances and so on. In other words, the stuff of life that connects people: family, dress, home, language, worship, etc. When we speak of a world, we are suggesting that there is a commonality of symbols that caused people to see the world/understand the world in similar ways. While each person viewed and experienced the world slightly differently, a common set of boundaries for defining the world was shared by most of the people.

When I speak of the Western world, I am speaking in a similar way. The Western World might in one sense be a combination of eras that stretch back to ancient Rome up through today. In that sense, the Western world contains many worlds such as the Classical, the Medieval, the Renaissance and so on. The controlling group of people in any given era share some common core of meaning that allow them to communicate and build a society together. Every world is always fragile and never independent of the people within it.

As the Western world passed through the Enlightenment and moved toward the modern world, there was a great anticipation among many people that the world was going to get better. We could understand the world around us through disciplined reason. We could observe the world around and find the real. A sense of hope in progress propelled many of family and individual to expect a better world tomorrow. (This is a super simplistic reduction.)

While a sense of hope and anticipation led the charge, a certain pessimism also begin to grow. The multiple tensions within this world stretching for tomorrow might show up in the arts through artisits like Charles Dickens who kept reminding the “civil” world of an underclass with struggles and pains.

Charles Darwin exemplifies this expectancy of the progress just like many revivalist preachers did. Their zeal and hope were expressed in vastly different ways but a common threat still held them in a one world. Some people saw beneath the fabric and knew it was unraveling. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche both identified a rotton apple within their world even if one moved deeper into faith while the other move away from it.

As the nineteenth century waned and the twentieth century waxed, a growing denizen of thinkers, writers and artist began to question the fundamental symbol sets that held the Western World together. Then Einstein rocked the science world with his theories. WW1 resulted in over 40 million deaths (Wikipedia). From 1918 to 1919, influenza killed off between 2.5% and 5% of the world’s population (see Wikipedia). These strains kept building and pressuring a world view that was already starting to crumble. As Yeats proclaimed, “The center cannot hold.”

Within ten years, nations around the world descended into a Great Depression and then another devastating war (WW2), which demonstrated that even science could prove the demise of the world through atomic warfare. These external strains were only coupled within internal strain that questioned the core symbol sets that pointed to a hopeful future, that trusted our reason, that believed in what we could see, smell, hear and taste.

Gradually more and more groups of people began to notice the problems of the Western world. It’s wasn’t as rosy as we had believed. The institutions made of people (like government and education and church) could act destructive. And collectively people could really be destructive. The stories and symbols and ideas that held this world together seemed questionable. They also allowed for slavery, prejudice, destruction of native American lands and families, sexual injustice.

The 60s was not a surprise blip on the map of the 20th century. It was when masses of young people finally abandoned the common symbols that bound the West together. The death that impacted many thinkers at the end of WW1 had now spread to young people. Some suggested the world would be so much better if we did away with all the trappings of Western civilization like religion and nations and conflicts.

The symbols that were cracking in earlier centuries completely collapsed in the twentieth century. Even the basic symbols sets of common language were questioned. Could we really even find a common meaning? RD Laing suggested that we could and would never know anoyone elses experience beyond our own. The meaning of words and even the trustworthiness of our own observations were questioned. We saw a man land on the moon, but did he really land on the moon? We saw a plane crash into the two towers, but did we really?

While the late 70s to the present have tried to turn the clock back before the 60s, it cannot happen. The 60s were an explosion of mass doubt and disbelief in the Western World that was a long time in coming. And yet the contradiction of the 60s (as well as the contradication of many would-be messiahs today) is that the people before screwed everything up but this modern project really does work and if we just make a few tweeks, through out a few behavoirs and add a few new gadgets, we can still make the world a better place. Using some vague modernist idea of progress, people continued to rely on a world view that was busted and broken.

We’ve watched over the last 40 years, the collapse of this world view played out in our institutions (made up of people who are losing their common symbol set). From the government corruption to the shootings at the schools, we see a world where we no longer trust institutions (and no longer want to go to church).

This disintegration is being played out all around the Western world, including the fighting in Iraq. While most people will point at someone or something else as the problem, they fail to see that the whole ship is sinking. We can never go back to 1950 (or the garden for the matter). Now we go forward to a new creation, a new world.

When I say that the Western World is dead, I mean that the symbols expressed in ritual and language and ideas no longer bind us together. So we abandon this civilization and revert to a tribe of like-minded people for comfort and security (liberal, green, conservative, libertarian and so on). We are living at the edge of chaos even if we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

We chaos will not prevail. The West will move forward. A new articulation of the future will eventually speak a vision of the world that will draw the masses together and we’ll move forward beyond this interim period. We will probably not even realize when that happens. But it will. And as I Christian, I believe that we will move forward learning and living out the radical implications of our confession in even more fuller ways. We are moving from glory to glory.

What will it look like to move forward? Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy suggested we move look back to move ahead. And many have begun to look back. The challenge of the church is to articulate through the voice of humility the way forward that leads to the resurrected Christ Jesus who calls us from glory to glory.

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