112296132493856593

As Most of you know I was a part of a roundtable discussion on Barclaypress.com – go to articles and look for roundtable…I would be interested to get feedback on the whole thing, I was also asked a question: Below I will post my first comment, the question, and then a second comment (one different than the one posted on the Barclay site) which is meant to guide the discussion further.

First I said: The church is to be a people who listen, who live in mission, who worship Christ, and who are hospitable. Like AJ said, the church is a people, not a building, not an event, it is when my wife and I have friends over for dinner, eat and drink together, and share stories with one another, encouraging, challenging, and shaping one another.

I am looking for relationships within a small body of people, where people know me, where there is mutual trust and love, honest conflict and reconciliation, where we submit ourselves to the deeper narratives of our own tradition within the narrative of Christianity as a whole, where we not only study the scriptures, but the fathers and mothers of faith who have gone before us. I am looking for a body that is willing to gather in a living room, a bar, a coffee shop, a backyard, or even skid-row, people who are willing to get their hands dirty for Christ, who embody his mission statement located in Luke 4:17-19.

A great question was asked: Wess, you’ve mentioned a bit about the use of narratives within the church. Could you further explain what you mean by narratives? Being a Social Work Major, I’ve heard of Narrative Therapy and how it asks people to re-write their life stories, which sounds good, but also seems troubling to me. My question is, if we discuss narratives in church, wouldn’t it cause division? Wouldn’t it cause someone to say, “my life narrative fits the Bible and the character of God better than your’s does?”

Then my second response: Wess, you’ve mentioned a bit about the use of narratives within the church. Could you further explain what you mean by narratives? Being a Social Work Major, I’ve heard of Narrative Therapy and how it asks people to re-write their life stories, which sounds good, but also seems troubling to me. My question is, if we discuss narratives in church, wouldn’t it cause division? Wouldn’t it cause someone to say, “my life narrative fits the Bible and the character of God better than your’s does?”

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I apologize first for using a philosophically loaded term, such as “narrative,??? because there is more ways to define it than make it useful. But I will tell you what I meant by the word and the implications that it has upon the church.

First I understand truth not to be defined by an individual who presumes he or she is being objective and who thinks they have found certain “common sense??? irrefutable principles by which they discover it, rather I presume that truth is always born within a social context, the community of which we are formed and form. I do not think we are capable of finding objective truth, at most God is the only one who has access to such discoveries, and at least we are too tainted by our own sin and experience to have a clear view of the world and the persons we are in relation with. So we do our best to make sense of what is going on around us, but taking it a step further, when we try and discern truth I think that it must be done within a community (and better yet if it is a community formed by the Holy Spirit) seeking to find “what makes the most sense of what we know and have experienced.???

That being said – the word Narrative was used as an all-encompassing term to cover all the stories and experiences we have been formed by. Growing up I was formed by stories of my mother, who as a young person experienced a lot of hardship and rejection by family and friends – hearing her stories formed my own “narrative??? in such a way that I empathize with the hurting and outcast, I can understand and relate to them in very personal ways because I was so personally formed by her narrative. There are tons of “stories??? that form us, some good, many bad, all real and all powerful in our lives.

A consequence of such a position is that one can say, “If God is the only objective judge, there is no way for me to say your story is better than mine, or vice versa.???

On one hand this is very true, no story is more right than another, because what is right or wrong isn’t what really matters, what matters is what was experienced and perceived. If my mom in reality was a really cool person, but she perceived just the opposite because of how her own mother treated her, the reality remains – she perceived and interpreted herself as being rejected by those around her who were supposed to love her (this is only set up as an example – and is not necessarily a reflection of my mom’s own history).

On the other hand, though objective truth is unavailable to us, we have to make sense of the world around us somehow. How is this done? There is no simple answer or easy way, but I think that what we have below is more realistic than what Modernity offered us with the idea of common sense readings, and certifiable-objective truths. To move forward we should submit ourselves to the stories of those in our own tradition: for me and you our guiding factors are A) the whole history of Christianity: the Christian Narrative, B) the whole history of Quakerism (we should be subordinate to our fathers and mothers who have gone before us, and allow their “interpretations??? of the world, Christ, and community to bear on our own): the Narrative of tradition and C) the discerning community of Christians– which is a body of people bearing their own stories and forming one another’s: Narrative of Community and D) the Inner Light of Christ and the Body of Scripture: the Dynamic Narrative of the Spirit of God.

None of these things are definitive on their own, as we all know there are competing interpretations of each of these four points (even within our own tradition)! But all of these things working together – as guided by the SPIRIT of CHRIST gives us solid interpreting tools from which to guide our lives that are ever being formed and transformed.

Christ is the basis for assuming that we can know something about God, and something about ourselves, He is the starting point for understanding the four points above: he is our “Hermeneutical Criterion.??? In Christ we cannot only find our Lord and God, but also our mentor and example (now what that looks like for today in various places and in various communities will change a degree or two, but nonetheless he is the starting point).

To say something about the last part of your question I would think that this idea of interpreting within the context of community narrative would be a great asset within psychology and the re-writing of life stories. No one can on their own re-write their own story, it must be done within a given context, and a group of people. If re-writing becomes an individualistic enterprise it will go nowhere. A helpful book on the community forming power for hurting individuals is Becoming Human by Jean Vanier.

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If you want to comment do so both on this blog and on the barclay website – and tell all you know.

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

One thought on “112296132493856593”

  1. Hi Wess,
    Thanks for elaborating some of the roundtable discussion on your site.

    I too have a lot of sympathy for a narrative view of church. It gives us a way to sidestep those fights over theology that are unnecessary and built a group-sense of who we as a people are. It can be annoying when it descends many of us are too self-centered as it is) but when we can hold on to the “us” in the storyline it’s great.

    I’ve noticed an unconscious shift in the liberal Quaker world over the past few years toward more narrative programs. In the 1950s the hip programs were pontificating academics writing press releases; in the 1970s it was me-me-me psychology/nurture stuff. And now this subtle turn toward us-narrative (e.g., a revival of traveling minstries).

    The small-body missional groups are something we haven’t begun to figure out, I’m afraid, except piecemeal here and there with a few newly-formed worship groups.

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