A recent post by my favorite daily blogger, Seth Godin, contains a great deal of complexity in its few lines:
When you talk about your last job, your last vacation, the things that happened when you were 12…
What do you lead with?
Do you lead with, “I broke my ankle that summer and rarely got out” or is it, “I stuck with my reading regimen and read all of Shakespeare.”
Because both are true.
The top story is the one that informs our narrative, and our narrative changes our future.
Years from now, when we are asked about the year 2020, what will be your “top story,” and how will that story have informed and even changed your life?
There is the story of the global health crisis caused by Covid-19.
Alongside that is the painful account of how this pandemic has impacted vulnerable communities – especially communities of color – at disproportionate rates.
There are scores of stories about the loss of lives, jobs, stability, and hopeful futures. You may have a prominent story about a personal loss caused by Covid-19.
There is the story of renewed attention to centuries of racial injustice and inequality in the United States (“Covid-1619”) and the cultural pressures that are finally dislodging long-standing symbols of older narratives about white privilege (just this week, it looks like we will finally bid goodbye to the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians).
And, in the church, there are narratives of uncertainty: unsure prospects, finances, gatherings, vision, and mission. As the pandemic has accelerated and revealed changes already in motion, many congregations find themselves wondering about their way forward and what to hold onto in the middle of the storm.
What is the top story for your life and for your congregation?
Narratives matter a great deal. And they can change our future. Acts 4 begins:
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2 much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3 So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.
The religious authorities of the time – those who thought they were in control of the narrative – arrested Peter and John and ordered them to be silent, but they just kept proclaiming the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at every opportunity. The officials pressed them more and still they talked only about the crucified and risen Christ. Finally, the account concludes:
…Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
They knew their narrative, and they understood that it would de-center and dis-establish the control of the powers that were. But they spoke of what they had seen and heard in Jesus. And the world changed.
The late, great Toni Morrison cared deeply about narrative. So many of her words have come back to me in recent months:
From Song of Solomon: “Perhaps that’s what all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? Or would you take it?”
And from Paradise: “Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind.”
The extraordinary events of the year 2020 are offering an invitation to each of us to live, and love, the de-centering power of God’s Spirit, like the early church that is described in the Book of Acts. Which brings to mind more of Toni Morrison’s words, this time in an interview from 1983: “I think about what black writers do as having a quality of hunger and disturbance that never ends. Classical music satisfies and closes. Black music does not do that. Jazz always keeps you on the edge. There is no final chord…. I want my books to be like that.”
“The top story is the one that informs our narrative, and our narrative changes our future.” Yes. We get the extraordinary opportunity as God’s beloved to accept the invitation to live on the edge of God’s future. It is an invitation to participate in the narrative of hunger and disturbance through which new things can be born into our life together, for God’s sake and for the sake of the world God loves.