July 14th, 2016
It’s a word that’s been in our lexicon for centuries. But it’s begun to permeate our discourse like at no time in history. It’s the word “narrative,” and since Google is well equipped to count just about everything, here’s a chart documenting its historical usage within the millions of books included in its digitized collection.
This is data only up until 2008. Inevitably and increasingly in your daily papers and news feeds–maybe even in your conversations–you are hearing (and using) narrative in its more common connotation of an attempt to capture a way of making sense of an idea, person, or issue.
One lays out their understanding of a given subject by telling its narrative–assembling multiple lines of evidence to form a coherent summary. Conversely, people are accused of misrepresenting a subject when, it is alleged, they screen out data that don’t “fit their narrative.”
So a narrative represents whatever constitutes a prevailing view. (One example of a well-entrenched narrative coming under subsequent critique we’ve showcased recently involved that of the church’s alleged adversarial posture toward the scientific enterprise with Galileo as the lightning rod.) And whatever narrative predominates has vast implications for, among other things, interpersonal and political relations.
With Dallas still reeling from the tragedy of last week, tears, anger, confusion all lay claim to this citizenry. We sought to wade into the deep waters of the issues surrounding justice last Sunday by asking Jesus to take us by the hand, and tell us how an enduringly just world might see the light of day, beginning with the church. As with every issue that threatens to rob humans of their ability to flourish, the just world Jesus reimagines depends on the embrace of the narrative Jesus authors and inhabits. In submitting Himself to an unparalleled degree, by grace and for love, His narrative holds sway upon all others.
And when it comes to those matters of race, prejudice, and justice, you have likely seen a collision of narratives across the airwaves. Does the narrative of police brutality fueled by racial prejudice most account for the crisis we’re in, or is it the incidence of criminality of young black males? Are there systemic issues of injustice in structures and institutions that fuel the exasperation that leads to violence, or is a breakdown of familial cohesion a recipe for incivility and delinquency? There are lines of evidence deployed to substantiate those various narratives. But the more a narrative begins to take hold, the more the pressure to preserve its coherence. And the more you’re motivated to substantiate a narrative, the less you’re willing to listen to evidence that demands its nuancing. (Pick an issue and you see the same phenomenon.)
Lecrae is a hip-hop artist, songwriter, record producer and actor. He is also a Christian. At a recent Q Ideas conference he did a wonderful job of both demonstrating the power and peril of competing narratives, and also how we bring the gospel narrative to bear on those narratives–including on how tightly we hold to any one. He then lets some of his art speak the truth as only art can. Watch.
It’s natural that we gravitate toward particular narratives. It’s necessary that we never let them become impervious to additional insight. And it’s absolutely non-negotiable that we let any one be informed, and reformed, by the Narrative we know as Good News.
In all this you may be wondering, “what can I possibly do to be part of the solution to this ostensibly intractable problem?” While the tragedy came about as close to home as it can, engaging the issue still feels like trying to reach Jupiter. So what can we do as individuals and as a church community that rises above pandering, patronizing, and tokenism, and that perseveres long after the shock of this season wears off? We’re asking those same questions. It’s with those questions that I’ll be attending a follow-up meeting to the prayer service held last Friday at Concord Church. The gathering means to offer local churches some substantive ideas on forging some new priorities that yield new unity among our religious communities and, moreover, allow them to be salt and light in the whole city. I’d ask you to pray for us this morning as we meet, pray, and discuss.
If you’d like to hear more form Lecrae on cultivating racial justice, you can listen to a TED talk he gave here. Otherwise, here’s some more of his music with a message.