Think back to when you were young. Perhaps you were in elementary school or high school. In that context, what were some of the stories that you were forbidden to read, watch or listen to? The question that follows, of course, is why were certain stories “off limits”, as declared by your parents, teachers, or someone else?
Stories have the amazing, and perhaps unequalled, ability to influence our lives, our worldviews, and even our actions and behaviours. Stories shape us. One doesn’t need to look far in order to see this reality at work. There are many categories in and through which stories, or narratives, are at work, and in our Talking about God series, I will highlight just three:
Family Stories – Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone for the first time, and within minutes you thought to yourself, “This person must be a Smith”? It might have been their attitude, their continual reference to an event or experience, or even their posture (pride or shame). There was something about the person that caused you to almost instinctively identify their family background. In that context, you were sensing part of their family story.
Cultural Stories – In North America, one of the dominant stories is the self-identity of the American people. Whenever and wherever an American describes what it means to be American, almost inevitably, the foundational experience of “independence” is emphasized. Whether in reference to an official event in 1776, the driving essence behind the entrepreneurial spirit, or in the context of foreign policy, “independence” is the story that has shaped the American psyche.
Religious Stories – Religion and spirituality, of course, have tremendous stories to share as well. In the context of recent history, is it possible to have a conversation about what it means to be Jewish, without referencing the story of the Holocaust? Can we talk about Islam without referencing certain political and/or military events? Or can we speak of Hinduism without having a picture of Ghandi come to mind?
Stories shape our realities. Whether we unconsciously assume the stories as part of our lives, or we consciously embrace them, stories influence how we see and respond to the world around us.
The recent trend in the Western world has been to individualize our spirituality and reshape religion to be about ourselves, and I wonder if there is a danger in that. When we see ourselves as being the sole creators of our own stories, and when we neglect the realities that are bigger than us, we can accidentally become designers of our own “truth”. And inevitably, our “truth” benefits us, often at the expense of others.
Questions to ask ourselves and others …
- Take a moment and think about what makes you “you”. What stories have shaped your worldview, your attitudes and behaviours, and your relationships?
- Think about your friends, family, co-workers, etc. Do you know the stories that have shaped them? Why don’t you ask some of them this week?
- Think of your religious beliefs and values. Is your spirituality all about you, or do you see yourself as part of a larger story?