Telling A Better Story: The Guide
It would be absurd to suggest that there is only one guide that we follow. As many have noted, we love stories because they help us find meaning, or reveal something about reality to us in a way we might otherwise miss. In a world that’s chaotic, we turn to a story or stories because the guides we find there are so much easier to see, or understand, or define. In real life, we are pulled in so many directions we probably don’t quite even know all of the guides to whom we offer an audience. And so for guidance, we will look to the Great Story again, because if it truly is the Great Story, where else could we turn?
But first, let’s think about what or who it is that we do allow to guide us, even if the examining will be entirely inadequate. Perhaps as we come into the world we are first guided by our community. Our families, our friends, our churches, etc. speak into our lives and tell us who we are and how we are to interact with the world. And really, as we start breaking apart story and looking at its structure, it seems fair to say that the parts truly are tied together. Who we are affects who we listen to as guides, and who it is that we allow to guide us tells us who we are.
Within our community though, there are leaders or mentors and we listen to them once the community doesn’t seem to have all the answers. But if we follow the idea of anyone being the ultimate guide to its conclusion, we know they will fail us. It doesn’t take a long examination of history to know this is true. And then what? Perhaps when people—leaders and mentors—fail us, or just seem to not quite answer all of our deepest questions, we turn to ideology. And ideology is now perhaps the most applicable of these so far to our politics, because everything hinges on being some variation of right or left or in the middle. But as I noted at the end of last week’s post, eventually we realize that even our ideologies will fail to create the world in which we want to live. And what could be scary, if we didn’t realize it, is that the people and leaders we look to as guides are often operating from an ideology, perhaps under the mindset that it will solve all of our problems. And if your ideology will indeed solve all problems, your only option is to war against those who don’t hold your beliefs, either through harshness or an odd niceness, or both, neither of them ever achieving your ideological ends.
There are two very important notes to make here though: 1. Policies implemented by government do affect people’s lives, and 2. There actually is truth in the world and it can be found. Both of these points matter because they point us back to the pursuit of truth. If our policies affect people’s lives, and if our conservative or liberal or libertarian policies won’t ultimately solve what they say they will solve, then our only option is to govern well in pursuit of truth, and that requires talking to people whom we would otherwise ignore.
But we plant our flags in the ground, and refuse to budge, and therefore miss out on even understanding a bigger view of reality, and an opportunity to speak truth into nonreality.
What does this look like in real life? Take any issue, say immigration for example. There’s not much that can even be said about the issue without being destroyed for it. So Members of Congress, for example, take to the House Floor, and talk to the five loudest people back home, reinforcing what they want to hear, while their House colleagues sit across the chamber not listening, prepping to do the same thing. Somehow it’s called a debate, but it’s largely being guided by ideology.
In reality, when you listen to border patrol agents talk about securing the border as you stand along the border (as I have), or listen to farmers talk about guest workers (as I have), you begin to realize our talking points are devoid of straight up facts, at least broadly speaking, and the many, many opportunities to look at the border and govern it well, or guest worker programs, and manage them well, are largely ignored. Our ideology, instead of playing itself out through facts, gets taken over by whoever is shouting loudest in our culture.
Hopefully we don’t let culture be our guide, because there are so many ideas out there that if we did, it would end all rational thought; what we’d latch on to for guidance would shift so often. (“Stop working on policy, you need to fundraise so you can get re-elected and enact good reforms! But wait, stop talking to lobbyists—who are actually people and often know policy well—at fundraisers and go get work done! If you don’t work harder—like nonstop—to prove yourself and to save the country, America will be taken over by the liberals, conservatives, immigrants, atheists, religious, gays, the news media, and the establishment all at once and be destroyed!)
Perhaps then we grow tired of the cultural nonsense and look inward, and realize our communities and our leaders and our ideology and our culture have left us worn out and confused. Inside there’s deep aching longings for things to be made right, but everything around us seems like a mess. Instead of affirming our existence, all we have taken in has left us feeling burned out. And now we look inward into our hopes and dreams and fears again, and let them guide us. But what if they’ve already led us here, to this place of burnout, of dysfunction, of strife?
We need a new guide.
“From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.
“We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!" (I John 1, The Message)
Somehow we’ve come to believe that freedom is a place with the right amount of immigrants, guns, or Supreme Court rulings and presidents we like, and until we reach that state of being, we must war against those who disagree.
But this—the ESV words that last sentence this way:
“And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
Has there ever been a political speech given for the purpose of complete joy? For those who agree with us, sure—but what if complete joy for everyone was our motive? Or would we rather fall into the slavery and fear of creating artificial enemies so we can gain a bit of artificial safety from them? What does that say about our affections?
“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” (Colossians 3, The Message)
Put another way, “set your minds on things that are above.” But how? It is possible for our desires to change.
“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4, ESV)
The context for this, by the way, is to stop fretting over people who do wrong! Pursue truth and beauty instead, and let the pursuit change your affections, your desires. The desires rooted in truth and beauty are those that will stand, as we pray
“Your kingdom come.”
The truth in all of this, is that our old guides just won’t do anymore. As we engage in pursuit of truth to govern well, we have a guide who was seen and touched and spoke deep truth into our lives, and gave us healing through freedom. He can change our affections and lead us onward as we work and plan and are called to action singing a new anthem: LIBERATUS—we are set free!