Retelling our story

The following is excerpted from “Symbolic Storytelling, Freedom Movements, and Church Education: Cesar Chavez as a Virtuoso of Identity,” Ted Newell, Religious Education, vol. 109, no. 5, p. 550:

“Worldviews draw on assumptions, on storied answers to the most basic questions of humankind. Their presuppositions are not irrational but pre-rational. A worldview framework is required for thought itself. Worldviews are the lenses through which humans see the cosmos and themselves within it. Accordingly, an attempt to adjudicate between worldviews by means of reason is likely to be a disguised attempt of one worldview to subdue another. Reason is not neutral but is particular, drawn from its own presuppositions — scientific reason included (Kuhn 1996; Harding 1986; Milbank 2006). There is no neutral ground on which to stand.”

There’s nothing here that is new or surprising, given the ongoing conversations about multiculturalism and postmodernism. But what does interest me is where Newell takes this argument: he calls for us to re-tell old stories for new times: “The older meaning-making matrices have broken down. New expressions of old stories or perhaps new stories are needed.” Newell is speaking from within a Christian worldview, and so he calls for new “holistic story-weavers” to re-tell the story of Christianity in order to bring renewal.

It would be interesting to try to re-tell the story of Unitarian Universalism in order to bring renewal. But what is our story? Is ours a story of a new reformation of Christianity that has called us into a post-Christian worldview? (This is a story Dana Greeley hints at in his 1971 memoir Twenty Five Beacon Street.) Is ours a story of human beings struggling to manifest in our religious communities a worldview of justice for all persons? (This is a story that Mark Morrison-Reed sometimes tells in his books.) Or maybe this — we don’t have one central compelling story that we can all unite around, in the way Ted Newell says that “Christianity must always be called back to [the story of] the Cross” — is ours a story of not having one story? (And this may be the story we most often tell about ourselves — “You can believe anything you want” — but I don’t think it is a very interesting or compelling story.)

Actually, instead of asking about our stories, it might be more interesting to ask about who are storytellers are: Which Unitarian Universalists are currently telling compelling new stories, stories which may bring renewal? The best example of a Unitarian Universalist “holistic story-weaver” that I can think of is Mark Morison-Reed. Aside from Mark’s stories, the Unitarian Universalist stories I’ve been hearing are either too particular to be holistic, or they rely on reason to subdue and subjugate competing worldviews.

The story that I’m waiting to hear will begin with the story of the relationships between humans, and how humans can manifest justice in their relationships with one another. But it will also tell about the relationship of humans to transcendence. It will also tell about the relationship of humans to non-human beings.

And it will be a really good story, one that won’t put me to sleep — which means it will be a story that’s good enough, and deep enough, so it can be told to children without having them slump down in their seats from boredom.

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