Stories of My Life
Stories produce the narratives and foundations of our life. They set the tone of our families. They help us understand our worship of God and the way we are influenced in making decisions. Stories shape how we see the world or how we make sense of it and how we adapt to it. I hate to admit that the One Direction song, “The Story of Our Lives” keeps running through my head as I’m typing this.
Written in these walls are the stories that I can’t explain
I leave my heart open but it stays right here empty for days…
The story of my life, I take her home
I drive all night to keep her warm and time
Is frozen (the story of, the story of, the story of)…1
Of course that song is about love, it reminds us that these points in our life are not only significant to each of us but have lasting effects that can not easily be dismissed. Whether it is Neil Diamond, Social Distortion, One Direction or many other bands that recognize that our stories forge the windows we see the world through, these narratives act as lenses in which our world is filtered through, like 3-D glasses bringing clarity to a blurred image. The culture that is created through these stories influences our perception of the world. Diane Zemke says,
Narratives are much stronger than the small, individual stories. They deeply influence what we see and what we don’t see, as well as what we believe about ourselves. Narratives inform our tastes, our relationships, and enable us to keep seeing life in a particular way. In short, they help generate and maintain our worldview. 2
The lenses in which we look through are those things that shape and influence how we interpret the world, how we see other people, and ultimately how we view our relationship with Christ. Sometimes the cumulative affect of our life’s stories isn’t completely obvious. Each of us have our own favorite worship songs. They are usually tied to some special event or transformational time in our life. Each of us have our favorite scriptures. They often are ones that remind us of a time we encountered the presence of God. It might also be a story that we understand or relate to some aspect of our personal narrative. These stories make up the culture of our lives and those around us. Zemke also writes, “…culture is created by what problems the congregation chooses to address, how they solve problems important to them, and what choices they repeat over time.”3 Although Zemke is writing about congregational narratives, one can also see how this applies to countries, cultures, work places, as well as family structures. The repetitive choices a group makes allows one to see what it values and conversely what it doesn’t.
When we recognize the impact these narratives have upon our perception and decision making process then we are able to understand and engage with others with eyes wide open. Zemke writes, “Another interesting aspect of narratives is that they don’t necessarily have to be completely true to have power. Indeed, narratives often portray what we would like to be true rather than what is true.”4 Our global, spiritual, and self perceptions are not always built on facts but on believed narratives that we hold true and sometimes hold to be unadaptable.
Helping people recognize the narratives that impact their understanding of God and the way they read the Bible, opens a door to conversations about our cultural lenses and how they impact our own mission in life. It is through this time of understanding that one can begin to make the changes that are both healthy and adaptive. Adaptive change expert, Heifetz identifies two types of challenges in change: adaptive and technical. Adaptive change is one that takes time to find solutions to the ongoing and ever changing problems one faces. Technical is the quick fix solution without thinking through the systemic problems or narratives. 5 When working cross culturally (cross narratively) or working to shift the narrative of a particular group, it is important to first understand who the group is and what they place value in. In working with Chinese people, many have not taken the years that it takes to understand the foundational narratives that create the society today. Many have not sought to find the lenses in which the Chinese people read and understand the Word of God. Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power”. However true development occurs when that knowledge is understood and a journey of adaptive change begins.
It is no wonder that churches are locked into the mode and method of their glory days, that countries define themselves by significant events in their history and individuals are marked by either traumatic or wonderful moments in one’s life. We are all products of the events and stories of our life. We have a hard time differentiating between our stories, our culture, or our God. These narratives shape the perspective of how we see each other, how we worship together, and how we serve the mission of God together. It is no wonder that these narratives are the things that we are passionate about, as well as being difficult to change. They are the foundations that shape and influence who we are. When change is recognized as something that is needed, then the slow journey begins of seeking after who we desire to become in contrast to who our current narrative has made us into.
1 One Direction video can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-TE_Ys4iwM
2 Zemke,Diane. Being SMART about Congregational Change, 2014. (Self Published, 2014) Kindle Edition location 517.
3 Ibid. 104
4 Ibid. 517.
5 http://changetheorists.pbworks.com/w/page/15475038/Ron%20Heifetz accessed May 8, 2019
9 responses to “Stories of My Life”
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Love your writing! When you talk about stories and narratives, I am reminded you may well have the best ones among us…
Your last paragraph is rock solid, and I appreciated your talk of difficult change because of the very narratives we highlight.
Glad our stories are centered together because of our shared Narrator. Thank you for being our Brother.
Jay. we all have stories that shape us. I was struck by the reminder in this book of how influential each memory we have or each “story” we make with God. We are such creatures of comfort and those memories of when and how we encountered God bring us comfort. It is interesting that how easily we forgot that other’s stories are not our own.
Greg, you’re right on. When we consider the whole narrative its no wonder why church changes are as emotional and as hard as they are.
For example, when we removed the pews from the church to fit more poeple into more seats, it wasnt just a change in seating… we were removing the pews that were there when many of the church people got married! There are so many emotional ties into the narrative
I can see that moving people’s pews causes disruptions in our own social norms. Just imagine when those pews were purchased by a memorial fund for your mom or they were the place that you gave your life to the Lord…It is easy to see how that arguments and frustration has nothing to do with pews or chairs.
Great post, Greg!
I love that you quoted One Direction and compared it to the narrative of Zemke’s text. Our lives are the culmination of our culture, our context, our community, and our spiritual expression. What was the greatest culture shock that you experienced when you moved? What was it like leading when your congregational culture differed from your own personal comfort?
Zemke suggests, “Narratives can keep the congregation on track and healthy even in the face of trauma. Unfortunately, they can also make it very difficult to change, even when the congregation needs to” (Location 611). What are some ways that pastors and leaders can shift a congregation that’s rigid and refuses to move?
Collen, I will admit that I have had limited One direction time :-). My kids like some and most importantly they opened for the U2 concert that I went to 2 years ago. Thanks for not judging me…too much.;-). First, I will say that you always ask the hard questions. I still get to lead from time to time out of my comfort. Usually when one mentors and it giving freedom to one being mentor to plan, lead, share…it often induces uncomfortable but many time surprising conversation and perspectives that humble me when I am feeling like I have the right answers.
I really think the only that one can do to bring change is times, trust and lots of intentional conversations.
Narratives are incredibly powerful as you point out. They mold and shape us in ways often unrecognized and significant aspects of our worldview is a result. All communities have a narrative that is largely shared. This is particularly true for churches and if that narrative cannot be expanded or developed into something more inclusive the result is the ultimate collapse of the congregation or ministry. I believe that is why Jason had us read this text as we are being trained to lead in and through challenging circumstances and will need some of the insights she has gathered. I wonder what you think the differences are between her focus on congregations and other ministries or non-profit work when it comes to answering some of the difficult life-stage questions.
Dan. I really like those concepts of adaptive change. I think the problem with both churches and para-church is that the person desiring change doesn’t recognize that true and meaningful change takes years walking alongside the change agents of the ministries. We act as though we have to bring about quick transitions claiming people should get onboard or get out of the way. (I know over generalization).
Thanks for this reflection on the meaning and value of stories and narratives. Harvey Cox wrote, “Every human being has an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by.” It’s wonderful how our Christian faith, specifically the Bible, is not a book about religion, but a book that tells the story of God and universal history. This grand narrative is the container that holds all the little narratives of our lives.