Stories matter: life-giving stories inspire us
Stories matter. Within my calling as an ordained pastor in the Mennonite Church U.S.A., one of my jobs is to remind people that the story of faith they profess must always be a story leading to life and never to 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 within which our smaller, personal story resides. In the Christian faith, the meta-narrative is the biblical story of God's overarching love for imperfect people.
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.
For a story to be life-giving we may have to abandon unhelpful theological narratives. We may need to let go of narratives that make God into a vengeful judge; cause us 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 hold to 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 defeat God (or life itself).
As one who tries to live by this narrative, I know that my smaller, personal stories must pass through its "gates." If the faith story 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.
If my faith story 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 when people are hungry for life-giving narratives. Our souls hunger for stories that affirm life. Stories of ordinary people feeding the hungry, educating the ignorant, holding powerful entities accountable. Stories that affirm the world with all the blessings and opportunities it affords, even when the seemingly larger powers exploit our weaknesses toward narratives of fear, ignorance, greed and indifference.
My point is this: Stories matter! Our spiritual and psychological well-being depend upon the narratives we adopt. More importantly, our collective survival depends upon these narratives.
This is why The Fig Tree is so important. It is dedicated to telling stories about people who are doing good work because they see the world through the lens of life-giving narratives. It is only through these narratives of life that we have the power to confront and engage with the false narratives of division and death.
May all of us, in whatever context we are in, bring life-giving narratives to the work that God has called us to do.
The Rev. Gary Jewell
Fig Tree Board member