Adapted from a recent sermon outline. Reprinted with permission.
Take any meta-narrative, sub-narrative, or any individual narrative, and ask these basic questions: Who is justified in this story? Who is the enemy? Who is “the good guy” in this story? And what vision, or image of “victory” does this story offer?
Taking the liberal and conservative narratives, there are two fundamentally different stories about the role of the private and public sectors, and the status of the individual and community as a whole. In one narrative, the business owner is propped up as the creator, the winner, the victim of state overreach, the passionate visionary. The story goes that this business owner’s enemy is the greed and corruption of unions, government, and regulatory bodies. In the other, the business owner is the enemy of the masses (with special attention given to immigrants, the poor, minorities of every kind) and the hero is the state and the public sector. The other heroes are the activists and organizers who march, boycott, and organize against corporate greed.
There are other meta stories from which to choose. The liberal narrative can be spliced into hundreds of different categories: social progressive, liberal reformer, “old school” and “new school” versions of every category, Berniecrats, and so on. The same is true of every dimension of our political world, as well as our cultural and religious communities.
What is the story you tell yourself?
Are you the heroic (fill in the blank)? Are you the victim of (fill in the blank)? Are you the survivor of (fill in the blank)?
The point being, a person will (almost) never take on a narrative that does not justify themselves. Don’t you see what’s happening in our politics today? Rampant overreaction to fears, and total, unfiltered identification with singular stories. Trump is the useful devil for people to attack, or the anti-establishment hero. I am suggesting that he is neither, if we are to look beyond the lies that our world tells us. What must we believe about ourselves, and our world, in order for us to recognize an immediate, singular, Kingdom of God?
Find me a (worldly) worldview that unites a Donald Trump and a Syrian refugee both. There is no such thing. That being the case, there is no single narrative that unites our people, one by which we can tell the same story about ourselves. What the world offers us, in terms of story, will always exclude the “other.” We are experts in other-izing each other.
One will never be able to appropriate a mass media narrative, secular or otherwise, to unite all people. Narratives are divisive, but useful for other reasons. Focusing on the problem for a moment, one must understand that narratives which are chosen or created by an individual will necessarily serve that individual. I challenge you to find an exception to this rule!
But, there’s a solution, there is hope. The Gospel narrative is universal, it unites us all, and it works for everyone because it works for no one. Who is justified by the story of the Gospel? No one, because we know: we are all fallen, and doomed to die because of our sin. No one is justified, except by grace. Who is the enemy? We are all fighting against the spiritual powers of the world, and the line between good and evil runs down the middle of each of our hearts. We do not get to look at others as the enemy when we put on the Gospel lens. Who are the “good guys” in this story? Only God is good.
What must we do? We have to live as though the Gospel story is our story (because it is) and transcend the major narratives that are churning about in our world. We have to call those stories what they are: useful lies. We do need language by which we can reference systems, institutions, and the barriers between us in the world, but we cannot let those words and stories become us. Instead, we are the called, chosen, beloved of God, who saved us by grace so that no one can boast. That is our story instead.