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.
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.
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