A Story I can Live by



A Story I can Live by

People don’t generally change their thinking unless they perceive there is a crisis.

I believe those of us who call ourselves Christians are in the midst of a crisis that has been unfolding for longer than any of us has been alive but, like that frog in a gradually warming kettle, we are unable to feel, and unwilling to see it.

I fear that if I were to tell you even a few of the true stories I have experienced that illustrate the crisis we are in, you may become defensive and there would be no learning by any of us.

Because that is the way humans work:

We are where we are because we were told a story by someone we trusted that has turned out not to be the Whole Truth – but the implications of doubting that story are profound. So we feel we need to protect the memory of the person, and the moment we embraced it.

The story that I am suggesting might not be the Whole Truth is comforting. It is familiar, and maybe it was adopted in place of the Original Truth to explain observations and experiences we found confusing and threatening.

This story we are told is the Whole Truth may now form the foundation of the community we have come to value for profoundly human reasons.

You may have found a way of telling this story that is attracting new adherents who have a psychological need for a Whole Truth. Maybe even drawing people from places where a less compelling story is being told, or where the storyteller is not as charismatic, or is not so sure that having a Whole Truth is all its cracked up to be.

Your livelihood may be dependent upon telling this story in ways that keep those who already believe the story comforted. To embrace a different story is, quite honestly, terrifying to your audience. And to you.

I accepted there was a crisis when I finally acknowledged to myself that what I thought was the Whole Truth wasn’t working. It was a pale reflection of the Original Story which it parroted in word but not deed. It was not transformative. It was not as Whole as I spent years trying to believe it was.

I could no longer filter out the multitude of disappointments and cling to hopes that had been rooted in my self-centred reasons for needing to believe it to be the Whole Truth.

I had known it wasn’t working for a long time, but no longer had the inner strength to double down once more.

I could now see that the easy and comforting version of the Whole Truth that needed to be kept alive by singing one more song and preaching one more sermon about it could not actually be the Whole Truth if it did not make sense to those on the outside to whom it was simply a set of disparate facts that did not describe their reality.

Humans have been gathering in communities around stories that purport to be competing versions of the Whole Truth for generations. The not-so-Whole Truth is safe from scrutiny as long as it can be passed to the next generation with no reference to competing stories that are defining reality for other groups in other places. Because once we step outside the bubble, and realise how disconnected from reality the Whole Truth feels to those out there, it becomes clear that the Whole Truth only answers the limited number of contrived questions those in the bubble have designed to lead a few more individuals to accept their version of the Whole Truth.

My salvation came when I stepped outside the bubble and found it was ok.

And saw that there are other stories out here that a less contrived version of the Original Story I still believed could shed some light on. These stories don’t claim to be the Whole Truth but answer more of the Big Questions nonetheless.

And those I meet out here have no respect for the institutions that have been fashioned around the story that believes itself to be the Whole Truth. And I have to agree. The Crusades, sectarianism and clerical abuse don’t sit well alongside beatitudes.

Thankfully, the subject of the Original Truth agrees as well. He had been refusing to restrict himself to the straitjacket of a Whole Truth for longer than anyone could remember. But it seemed no one had noticed. Truth be told, the subject of the Whole Truth struggled to recognise himself in the stories that were being told about him.

He thought he’d made it clear that it was not healthy to define people by the mistakes they’d made because, once on the defensive, people rarely summon up the honesty to admit they need help to change. People who make mistakes, and are driven to keep making them, will not learn if they put up defensive walls.

He thought he’d demonstrated how there is no in-crowd, and none who are beyond the pale. Turning over tables and entering forbidden lands to encounter marginalised people and initiating conversations about taboo subjects should have made that clear.

It was his hope that spending three years coaching an unpromising team how to make their lives count would have set a compelling example. Listening to songs that profess the deep love of followers who would rather not copy his example can be heartbreaking. And receiving requests for him to do things they could achieve if they followed his example seemed to suggest they had missed the point.

Truth be told, the subject of the Whole Truth felt himself to be sorely misunderstood. He struggled to recognise himself in the stories that were being told about him. Or, to be more accurate, he could not see himself in parts of the stories that had been extracted from their context, and used to justify already-held opinions and prejudices that had nothing to do with the way he had lived his life.

He thought his Damascus Road Disciple had made it clear that the season of demanding that outsiders become fully fledged, badge wearing insiders before they were acceptable to him was over. The wondrous stories he recalls himself telling had invited participants to join in, willing to be gently nudged in new directions, open to change and embracing new ways of seeing themselves and living in the world.

You’d have thought the Original Stories had been censored, banned, burned or locked away. But no, they still exist. Black & white and in plain sight. When read without distracting commentary they still stand up to scrutiny. When illuminated, even by humble attempts to practise their message, they even seem to make sense to those who are open to put them into practice.

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About the Author

Craig Millward has been a Baptist minister for over 30 years and has extensive experience of the joys and challenges of church leadership.

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