Wednesday, 29 April 2009

843 - Catechism

That your life is a story,
That you are the centre of that story,
That you are in control of your story:

no religion, philosophy or science has ever promised more than this. The religion I know most thoroughly, Christianity, uses one word - love - and many words - the Bible, but I don't think it offers anything other than a demonstration of this truth.

It follows from love, because from the perspective of love, all things are possible, and all are bestowed upon the beloved, so that we, being loved, have the tools, inclination and permission to make of our lives what we want.

It follows from the Bible, because, whether fact or fiction, the story of Jesus unlocks the possibilities of love and, in making them known to us, gives us mastery over them. Even if the surface claims of the gospels are untrue, there is a perspective from which they become true. You can stand four-square a scientist and allow this perspective.

But it would be true to say, I think, that the Church, as an institution, has had problems with this news. Which is why, through the ages, its members have, in about equal measure, chosen to embrace the institution despite themselves, and embrace themselves despite the institution. A centripetal force argues for the core, whilst a centrifugal force propels outside.

I'm not ashamed of my upbringing and young adulthood, which drove me towards the core of the gospel, but I'm also not ashamed of my decision first to leave the Church, and then to remain outside it. I believe this is a prophetic stance - a testimony to the overarching reach of love, very much of the moment, given the rise of new technologies and the impact of globalisation at a point in our history when modernism, in its institutional, consumerist guise, has run itself, and our planet, out of steam.

John Gray writes forcefully, over his thirty plus year career, of the collapse of the Christian myth, and of the myths, such as atheism and liberal progress, that have spun from it. But it is my understanding that Christianity is not Christianity unless it stares its collapse in the face. Christianity is precisely about what you do when your myths have all collapsed - Jesus the Messiah is patently not the Messiah of contemporary Judeo-Roman myth if, instead of restoring the kingship of Jerusalem, he is dead on a cross. Christianity's answer is that, having accepted the collapse of the guiding myth given to you by your older peers, you are absolutely free to tell one of your own choosing.

For the past five years I've been exploring the terrain where this insight leaves me. And I'm working up ideas on at least two scales. First, on a societal scale. I'm captured by the image of a seagull flying low over the water as an argument for the celebration of thrift: high-flyers have represented the pinnacle of achievement for many years, with the attendant benefits of a luxury lifestyle, kudos and freedom from moral restraints (the mile-high club), but it takes as much skill, and a good deal of daring, for a gull to skim the waves. It shouldn't be hard to construct a population-wide cultural niche where value and esteem is attached not, say, to consumption, but to environmental reparation - and indeed, blossoming in all kinds of places, is just this sensibility.

But societal change rests, I believe, on individual change, and in order to change like this, to become the early-bird lone-voice creative low-flier in a given society, community, family, mirror, it helps to feel secure in your right to choose at a most profound level whatever story best appeals to you. Hence my passion for our rights of identity, for the celebration, across cultures, of our ability to story ourselves whichever way we choose (regardless of what I want, or you, or our present society, or whatever).

My call, as a once-Christian, is for churches to promote storying as the new core tenet of their faith. As I have made clear, I believe this is actually true to the ancient heart of the Christian gospel. It is also profoundly ecumenical, common cause with storytellers across the ages. If you want a temporary enemy, by all means fight those who would steal our right to tell stories - but remember, all they are doing is telling stories for themselves, so fight with infinite care and gentleness, lest you become a stealer of stories yourselves.

But I am a once-Christian, and don't believe this is a message just for the institutions. The most effective way I can think of, to argue as an individual amongst individuals for the value of storying, is to embody it as a consciously creative act, an art and/or science. It's not a lonely cause to adopt - there are storytellers making the headlines everywhere: today in the Metro newspaper I read of the Japanese barman who has founded a new genre - the mobile phone novel. I read also of Marie Bashkirtseff, who in 1875, Jon Savage argues, as a prototype for today's teenagers, defining her identity, writes 'I am the most interesting book of all'. And neuroscientists, becoming, by their research, a story themselves, tell us how neural plasticity hardwires the stories we live into our very brain structures and personal identity both.

Sometimes it seems daft that I am writing all this on a tiny blog, but in the end that's the essence of the case I am making. This isn't about a money-making fix, or the short-term. If it's about getting the message out, I want it out organically. You don't need the support of an institution to fashion the story you live by. Have it if it is offered, but (my advice, anyway) don't wait for it to come to you. In Whitley Bay, or wherever you are, set to your dragon slaying, or big swoon, or comedy of kings, by yourself.

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