By Joe Boyd
The world is a dangerous place. Issues like extremist terrorism, systemic racism, and constant political backbiting seem insurmountable. As a Christian, I believe there is a way through God to a better future. But how? Where is that way? And how do I walk in it?
The problems I see associated with the world today all boil down to the big stories, the metanarratives we all live within. For many people, the biggest story they live inside is their personal story.
We call these people all sorts of things: sociopaths, egomaniacs, shallow thinkers, go-getters, heroes, and more. But they all have one thing in common—they are the main character of their story.
Then there are all the -isms of the world. There are people who have broken out of thinking their own life is their own big story, but have latched onto some popular (or reactionary) communal metanarrative. A person might believe his biggest story centers on his home state or hometown, his family, nation, political party, religion, sports team, career, race, or class.
Fundamentalism is an extreme version of this and is found in every religious and political worldview. Fundamentalism is the most dangerous force on the planet (and always has been) because it eventually allows for the justified rejection of the things that make us good: empathy, grace, compassion, and humility. Unrestrained fundamentalism ultimately leads to extremist splinter groups like the KKK in Christianity and ISIS in Islam. It literally leads to death. The vast majority of us aren’t fundamentalists. We all live in overlapping, sometimes incongruent, stories.
I am an American, for instance. My story is also that of an Ohioan and a transplanted Nevadan. I cannot divorce the story of Las Vegas from my story because the 10 most formative years of my adult life were entwined within that city’s story. I also have a family and religious heritage—I’m a product of the Restoration Movement. At times, all of these truths about me have evoked pride, at other times shame or indifference, but I am not truly myself when any of these stories is allowed to become my big story.
Our metanarrative, the story we decide is primal to us, produces our self-observed ultimate identity. Perhaps unrealized, we all have a primary identity. It tends to fly out of our mouths daily.
“I’m a mother.”
“I’m a lawyer.”
“I’m a good person.”
“I’m a Republican.”
“I’m an alcoholic.”
“I’m a victim.”
“I’m an athlete.”
My Big Story
For me, my big story is not that I am an American, a CEO, a pastor, or a movie producer. I am all of those things, but none is my big story. So long as I call myself a Christian, the story of God, Jesus, and the church is my big story.
Or as G.K. Chesterton once said:
I have attempted in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe. I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.
Admittedly, my understanding of this story, what it even means to be a Christian, is constantly evolving. There have been and will always be very dangerous pockets of fundamentalism and elitism within Christianity; I accept them as a reality, but reject them as useful. There are parts of our story I deeply love—I think of so many stories about Jesus and the saints. There are parts of our story that make me uncomfortable. There are parts that are terribly embarrassing. But whose story doesn’t have those parts? This is mine. I hope my journey and current expression of faith can contribute positively to the chapter of the story I find myself in today.
My biggest prayer for the world is that people from all backgrounds can find the empathy, humility, and compassion needed to rally around that which we all know to be true. That every life is sacred. Every person matters. Everyone deserves love and respect. These foundational truths are revealed one story at a time.
When you honestly engage in a person’s story, it opens the door to a peace process. It creates space for the resurrected Christ to intercede.
The world is a scary place, but less so when we honor both our friends and enemies with the dignity of hearing their stories. It’s how the kingdom comes.
Joe Boyd is founder and president of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Cincinnati, Ohio.