Danger! Skewed Narrative Ahead.

So often in the Church, indeed in life, I see people taking sides, getting polarised, creating division. More often than not we hear false equivalence or other logical fallacy as the basis of this - stuff like "if you're liberal/conservative/whatever you can't believe/do x" or "if you're Christian you can't think y" or the joy of "if you really cared about y you can't do x" 

What this so often stems from is a failure of imagination, an inability to see a different way of thinking or doing from your own, or a lack of empathy with others. Chimamanda Adichie describes this as the danger of a Single Story and it is the basis of racial and cultural prejudice and misunderstanding, a cause of division, and a barrier to progress and co-operation. 

We have such issues in our church communities all the time. With regards to sexuality and gender identity I so often hear "if you believe in the Bible you will think...." With regards to social justice advocacy or social action we are told "if you're part of the church you'll only do 'spiritual' things". Even within individual spiritual communities we find ourselves trapped into single narratives with each side unwilling or unable to hear or understand the other. We have something of this in a current situation in my community with a group of people saying 'if you don't do this thing, then you are showing you don't care' - without considering that there is working going on already by people who care deeply, who working hard to create a solution - but that there is more than one story going on. 

So often a narrative becomes dominant and pushes away any attempt at listening, at reasoning, at seeing through a different lens. It is at times like this that structures break and communities split. It's actually much harder to listen, to respond, to empathise, and to commit to working in community even if there is disagreement and discord. 


Bob MacDonald said…
Hi Alastair, It's been a while. I am continually surprised by the ways in which I can have my mind changed. As if I could skew my narrative as required. I continue to concentrate on the Hebrew Bible - mostly from a technical than a conceptual point of view. And theology is hardly my strong point. I am currently studying word forms in pointed and more modern unpointed newspaper style Hebrew - a crazy pandemic project. And I am using the accents in the Hebrew text to construct and arrange music some of which I hope you will hear soon because David and the choral scholars are working on it.

So I am fully unqualified and somewhat distant to consider parish conflicts. Yet my prayer is always with those parishes that I am close to. And particularly St John's.

What struck me recently was how my horror at 'Fortress church' has been turned around recently. 'A safe stronghold' is 'a fortress church'. That's a good thing. Nothing unclean shall enter it - as that ancient epistle Revelation has it at the end of the story. And it has walls - 144 cubits high, built of diamond and gold. And it has 12 gates of course - remember that amazing Chanticleer song. And the gates are never shut by day and there is no night there. So much for sleep!

When I was in Jamaica, all the stores had barriers. The cashier was like those in an old bank - perhaps like the teller in a police station here. Protected. Not open. Too much theft and violence in the city.

I protested in my heart against the locked doors here - but I drifted away and ignored them - and buzzed the buzzer like Winnie the Pooh at Wol's house, and waited for an answer. Now I could justify, by this random appeal to Revelation, a book outside my knowledge and area of study, that the fortress can stand. God builds walls. The ones who enter the open gate should not be afraid for their safety. The unclean must be cleansed - hard though this is - and so full of pitfalls. Strange - there is 'an inside' and 'an outside'.

Even Yahweh does not want to walk around the camp and put his foot in a mess. (Deuteronomy 23:13-14) Perhaps we should give everyone a shovel. But I find I could build a wall as required. Much as I can rail against self-protection. If there is no home left, there is no place for the necessary cleansing and the positive therapeutic value. Safety is the other side of welcome.
Alastair said…
Thanks Bob - yup, I get the safety and welcome - but the story goes 'only X will keep people safe' - and that's the skew we're experiencin: those who actually study and live this stuff say that building walls and fences encourages encroachment and a sense of security for criminality rather than a sense of haven. There are other ways to tell a story, and at the moment one of them is dominant to the exclusion of actually hearing clearer, compassionate, experienced voices.

But the post wasn't meant to just be about our issues, but about the wider concept of listening to more than one story, and the danger of only hearing one. I think there's often a fair amount of confirmation bias if we can't reach out to embrace the multi-strand process.

Popular posts from this blog

Dil Se . Cover , Benny Dayal, Rukmini Vijayakumar