Living by 'the' story

Living by 'the' story

Thursday, 6 February 2014  | Narelle - MECS Principal
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

One of the most controversial books I have read in recent years was a novel by Melbourne writer, Christos T, called The Slap. This was made into a mini-series for television and aired in late 2011. The key event of the novel, set in an inner-city backyard, is a gathering of friends and family for a BBQ. As the afternoon progresses, an out-of-control young boy is slapped by another guest. The reactions and ramifications of this incident are told in the rest of the book as each chapter introduces and tells the story of one of the guests.

Each person’s story was an intriguing snap-shot of life in modern Melbourne; each person so different – shaped by a variety of experiences throughout their life; their values and ideas shaped by so many different influences. We see the detail of their lives – their secrets, their ambitions, their motivations as they are revealed to us in each chapter. And of course, all of these ‘stories’ shape and influence the way they respond to ‘the slap’. What I thought was most interesting was the fact that these people were all linked in some way – friends, family, acquaintances of each other – it was not a random collection of people gathered to show the great variety and contrast in the views and beliefs of people across Australia. These were a group of people potentially just like us, our friends and family. It made me reflect on how often we think the people we hang out with are all alike, but in reality our stories have shaped us very differently.

At about the same time I read Philip Y’s book, What good is God? In this collection of stories, he tells the account of a brave young woman called Natalya D who lived in the Ukraine during the Orange Revolution of 2004. On the state-run television network, her job was to provide translation to the deaf community through sign language. When the main announcer declared that the pro-democratic candidate, Viktor Y, had been soundly beaten, instead of translating this message accurately, she had a different story. She communicated, via the small screen inserted in the lower right-hand corner of the television screen the following message, “I am addressing all the deaf citizens of the Ukraine. Don’t believe what the authorities say. They are lying and I am ashamed to translate their lies. Viktor is our president!” This act of defiance, revealing the true nature of the fraudulent elections, gave voice to the ‘people power’ that emerged as the ordinary people of Ukraine flooded the capital city of Kiev demanding new elections that finally ushered in democracy to this country after years of communist rule. 

When I read this, I was challenged once again to think of the stories that shape us, the stories that we live by and listen to. I think we all understand that we live in a world in which the cultural stories of our time are pervasive and powerful. Stories of individualism and consumerism dominate our lives and compete for our attention. It would be naïve to think that as Christians, we aren’t shaped and influenced by these stories as much as anyone else. It is hard work, requiring deliberate choices, to live by another story – to live by ‘the’ story!

One worldview writer believes that “narrative is the scheme by means of which human beings give meaning to their existence.”  As such, teachers and parents become powerful story-tellers! It goes without saying then, that the story that we live by and indeed, the stories that we tell our children are critically important.

I like the image or metaphor presented in Philip Y’s story. I would like to think that our job as Christians - and perhaps more importantly as Christian teachers and parents - is to be the small screen in the bottom of the corner of the large screen. Our job is to be saying “don’t believe what they say ... they are lying... there is another story to live by – one in which the poor are blessed, as well as the persecuted, where to be a servant is more important than being the master, where life in all its fullness comes from following God, where it is more important to be something, than to have something, where power and status are not the things that define a human being...”.

However, the constant challenge for us as people of faith is to make sure our own lives are consistent with the story we profess. I am challenged by the call of Joshua as he gave the people of Israel a clear ultimatum in regard to whom they would worship. They were given a choice – and they needed to decide! If they didn’t want to follow Joshua’s God, they needed to choose someone or something else to serve.

It seems to me that if we are not choosing to live out of God’s story every year, every term, every day – then by default we will serve something else. And how easy this becomes! Bit by bit we let the dominant cultural story shape our lives - our choices, our decisions, our motivations, our relationships, our purchases!

Let us return to the group of family and friends in The Slap. They had things in common – they were a community of sorts – that’s why they were all together on that afternoon having a BBQ. And yet, they couldn’t have been more different from each other when the facade was stripped back and we really saw them and the stories that shaped them. As we gather together as a community at the beginning of this school year, called together for the purposes of Christian education, let us encourage each other to be faithful to the story that we have chosen to live and serve by. That doesn’t mean that we will all be the same – of course, other experiences shape and influence us – but we do have something more in common than just sending our kids to the same school or working in the same place. It’s hard to live out all aspects of our lives consistently with the biblical story and even harder to know how this story shapes all aspects of the educational task – but let us be faithful in encouraging and supporting each other so that we can say with confidence, like Joshua, “But as for me and my school, we will serve the Lord.”

MECS Principal

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