Why the Stories We Tell Matter

Arguably the most important election of our lifetimes, months of nonstop controversy, brave local and state officials working long nights, a gravely worsening pandemic, the Christmas holidays, emergency jaw surgery, yet even more controversy, New Years, an attempted national level coup. No, this isn’t the newest dystopian YA trilogy. It’s the last 2 months of my life in the US of A.

I didn’t set out with the idea of “let me write a political blog.” Not in a million years. Not this conflict adverse introvert who is perfectly happy to have her nose in a book or a paintbrush in her hand. Occasionally both at the same time.

I’ve been watching, reading, researching and oh-my-heavens, praying. Spending the edges of my days trying to wrap my head around these last weeks. Images of a frenzied mob storming the US Capitol and the looming threat of more violence turning DC into a green zone that looks more like it belongs in Iraq than the USA.

If we want to truly heal the divisions that are gaping canyons in this nation right now, we must change far more than our current rhetoric. We need to understand the root issues and the stories that have given rise to them.

If the last few years have taught us anything, it should be that the stories we tell ourselves, and one another, matter.

Some of you may be wondering, “Hey, Michele why are you jumping in now?” I hear ya, I’m not a huge fan of armchair quarterbacking either.

Partly, it’s timing personally (jaw recovery time, looking at you). But more than that it’s the realization that in the middle of the melee is usually not the best time to try to start a conversation about what provoked and fed it. Even more sobering is the realization that the Trump presidency may be ending, but for roughly half the USA, the Trump era most certainly is not.

Introductions

In case we haven’t met, I’m Michele, now a content strategist + educator for creative small businesses. But for the first 20ish years of my adult life, I worked full-time overseas and domestically with a variety of faith-based nonprofits and ministries that are smack dab in the middle of the independent charismatic evangelical movement. And for ten of those years, I was an ordained pastor. Could marry, bury, the whole shebang.

All that to say, I’m not writing mere theory and abstraction. I’ve seen many of the ideologies up-close-and-sometimes-way-too-personal. I’m not a reporter and these articles should not be read like in the sense of “reporting news”. What I write is however heavily researched. The views I share here are my own formed from that research and my own experience.

And I would strongly encourage you to not take anyone’s word as “gospel” these days… including mine.

Read the sources referenced. Look up the Bible verses mentioned, preferably in more than one translation. Do your homework. Pause. Dig. Think. Pray. Agree. Disagree. Just make sure you know that your views are your own. And any healthy spiritual leader in your life should be asking you to do the same thing. Check them. Research. Grapple. Know your why.

Who This is For

Everyone’s welcome, but I’m playing favorites just a tad writing for two main audiences.

I’m writing for those of you who are still in the evangelical and charismatic church circles I came out of. Maybe you’re on the edge, feeling unsettled, starting to ask questions, and wondering how what you are seeing lines up with Jesus. You aren’t alone.

And I’m writing for those of you who are the nones and dones 1 who have left the system, or who never were in it, to begin with. Those of you who are confused, angry, rejected, and hurt by what you have experienced.

I am not writing for folks who are super happy with their idea of church or politics as is and who don’t want their comfort zone challenged. I am not here to debate conspiracy theories or theology or 1000 debatable things. I am not here to convince people who don’t want to be convinced.

My starting place

So much confusion comes because we don’t define our terms or identify our biases. I want this to be a safe place with as little confusion as possible, so here are some helpful things to know about where I am coming from.

Let’s start with a few key terms:

  • Christian: someone who practically follows Jesus
  • Evangelical: I am usually speaking about the modern subculture known as evangelicalism unless I specify evangelical theology. I am not speaking about the biblical term related to evangel or good news.
  • Church: everyone who follows Jesus regardless of their label
  • Kingdom of God: the spiritual reality Jesus talks about
  • Word of God: Jesus

My spiritual bias is for relationship over doctrinal dogma. I believe the Bible is inspired and important, but not inerrant or infallible. (Yes, I will be writing about that.) I believe God is love and is knowable on a personal level. I do not believe it is my job to convince, convict, or change anyone’s beliefs. My current political bias is slightly left of center. And this is my personal blog. It is purely a personal passion project and will be happening on the edges of my days running a full-time business, as space and energy allow.

Why stories matter

Story. It is one of the most powerful teaching tools there is. Jesus taught in the stories we have come to know as parables. We are hard-wired for story and connection. Stories create a scaffolding to organize our beliefs. If your beliefs are like clothing pieces, then the stories that frame and organize them are like the racks in your closet on which those clothing items hang. Stories give your beliefs meaning, order, and become the lenses through which you interpret the world.

Facts rarely go viral. Stories go viral. And because stories shape the fabric of our perception and understanding, identifying the stories we tell ourselves and one another is crucial to discern accurately what the “facts” actually are. People often have different interpretations of the same set of facts and are still telling the truth.

Different stories being told about the same facts do not mean someone is lying. Sharon McMahon (@sharonsaysso on Instagram) defines bias “as how one describes or characterizes a set of facts”, and the subsequent narrative that gets told about those facts.

The stories we tell ourselves and one another have enormous power to shape the way we see and interact with the world around us. They can even affect our brain’s ability to recognize and interact with needed information. We are going to be talking about this a lot here going forward.

Leveling the expectations

Ok. Let’s level set some expectations for what’s to come. We are not going to solve the world’s problems in any one post/article alone. This is just the beginning. One post isn’t going to lay out all the arguments or provide all the research. The topics I am writing about here are as vast as they are nuanced. So we will take one little piece at a time.

What I write is my opinion based on research and experience. You are welcome to look at the same research and hold a different opinion. That doesn’t make either of us better than the other.

That being said, I am going to be tipping some sacred Americana golden cows here.

Some of you may read things that you deeply disagree with. DEEPLY. I get it. I really do. Let me encourage you to step back, take a few breaths, and ask yourself WHY you disagree so viscerally. Go deeper than because the Bible says so. It might indeed say so. The Bible says a lot of things. And they all probably don’t provoke the same level of invested response. So, why does this one thing cause you to recoil or rage?

Asking honest questions isn’t the sign of an unraveling faith. It’s the sign of building a faith that can stand up to criticism and conflict, and still live out of a place of compassion and wholehearted communication.

This is the faith that can live in the tension between viewpoints and begin to work towards reconciliation. I’m grateful you’re here and I look forward to all that’s to come.


1. Terminology adopted from Church Refugees, Packard + Hope, https://amzn.to/3bX3uQF
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