The Big Story

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March 14, 2013 by Kyle

The Big Story
Narrative is incredibly powerful. The story of our lives is shaped by a larger narrative or what some call a Meta-Narrative. The big story that a group or society buys into–the major theme that govern our lives. I need to know that there is a story bigger than the tired one that so many believe. We need a big story! A meta-narrative is a big story that a culture creates or imports into their everyday thinking and life.  For example, one meta-narrative for a significant group for North American Christians says, “We must get back to the good ole days because we were once a Christian nation.” This narrative is well known within Evangelical circles and has caused many to cry out for another great awakening or revival to restore what ‘others’ have ruined. There is no doubt that this is a deep seeded belief. This kind of thinking can sometimes ignore the dangers of Christendom. We forget that Christendom included such things as a privileged theology from a privileged class which contrasts a theology from the bottom which streams out of the Biblical text. God comes to the rescue of the oppressed.

Groups tends to view their past and their collective narrative as the true story and may unintentionally negate any other group’s narrative. In other words, our story is ‘the’ story. Some would even say that their story is on the same level as Biblical revelation. It’s important to say up front that the big story is what God has revealed about Himself. He remains the Librarymain character despite our attempts to play substitute or to discount a big story. Humanity will often seek to envision a world without God where they are the main character and God plays villain. We must recognize that our story is not the main story but our small story can find real meaning once it is seen in relation to what God has communicated to us about Himself.

Even those who are familiar with God will develop an imaginary where God is not replaced but they certainly shape a story with themselves in the primary role at the exclusion of other peoples. Take the narrative of Puritan settlers coming to what was called the ‘New World’ to establish a community that would be a beacon for the world. This narrative underpins the idea of American exceptional-ism  The pilgrim narrative is read into the big story of North America and then mixed into the Biblical story. Although the source of American exceptional-ism is not easily placed, the empirical evidence of exceptional-ism is observed and undeniable.

Everyone has a narrative. Most young African Americans will connect to the urban narrative that’s usually voiced through hip hop, spoken word, clothing, tattoos, etc. I believe that contemporary music, if not a comprehensive cultural barometer is certainly a legitimate marker of social direction. The current narrative of the African American community seems to resemble more the lyrics of an R & B hit than any Negro spiritual. The Negro spiritual is not a contemporary narrative but at one point it was the primary story of communal suffering and overcoming for African slaves and their descendants.  A point of contrast is listed below which not only shows the gulf not between old and new styles of music, but it also highlights a gulf in thinking. I stumbled across the lyrics below written by one of the most prolific rap artist/composers out today:

“…We just want credit where it’s due
I’ma worry about me, give a f#@k about you
Nigga, just as a reminder to myself
I wear every single chain, even when I’m in the house

The artist highlights the culture of not only North American inner cities but also it’s suburban developments. This song is a top ten hit on the billboard rap chart. Self-centered decadence with a disregard for others. Art is a mirror into the heart of a society. This is the narrative of our society and more specifically this is the story of my generation and the one that follows. This is a horror story with small characters and a thin plot. Please don’t hear me say that older generations are exempt from critique–they raised my ‘wayward’ generation and there is no such thing as the ‘good ole days’. Each generation looks to exempt themselves from complicity but the ‘glove’ does indeed fit.

I guess my question is whether there is a new story that needs to be told? If I were to frame a new/old story (narrative) it would be based on an ancient story. It is not an unfamiliar story to some but for many it is a story that many have no recollection of at all. Various communities have found hope in the Exodus of Jews from Egypt.  The story is rooted in the Old Testament; the story of liberation.  God frees His people from the grip of Pharaoh  The Exodus account has resonated with black folk through the last two centuries. God freed Africans from the hand of their European oppressors by His mighty hand of mercy. Although the Exodus account has undeniable parallel–the Biblical story doesn’t end with the Red Sea miracle. There is also a wilderness experience, conquest of the land, period of judges, kingdom, exile and then 400 years of silence. The narrative doesn’t finds its fulfillment until God incarnates Himself and lives among those who are in bondage to man’s greatest oppressor. Christ the Liberator destroy man’s greatest enemy by dying and resurrecting. Blacks found freedom in a story that was bigger than their situation.1 Israel’s story is my story, our story, mankind’s story. We all like sheep have gone astray and we are chastened by our Creator, who redeems a select few for His glory. In the midst of our death God brings life.

Spirituals

Spirituals

Black slaves borrowed the Biblical narrative and infused their experience of suffering into the greater narrative. God reveals Himself in the suffering of His people Israel. God’s interaction with His chosen people becomes the looking glass by which the oppressed navigate hope. The spiritual is history as much as it is a pronouncement of hope. Here Jesus, Mary, Moses and Pharaoh all play a part in describing deep despair and an unrealized hope.

‘Oh Mary Don’t You Weep’

Well if I could I surely would
Stand on the rock where Moses stood;
Pharaoh’s army got drownded –
O Mary don’t you weep.

O Mary don’t you weep, don’t mourn,
O Mary don’t you weep, don’t mourn,
Pharaoh’s army got drownded –
O Mary don’t you weep.

Well Mary wore three links and chains –
On every link was Jesus’ name;
Pharaoh’s army got drownded –
O Mary don’t you weep.

(chorus)

Well one of these nights bout 12 o’clock
This old world is gonna rock;
Pharaoh’s army got drownded –
O Mary don’t you weep.

Well Moses stood on the Red Sea shore,
Smote’ the water with a two by four;
Pharaoh’s army got drownded –
O Mary don’t you weep

Mary’s tears, Moses’ miracle and Pharaoh’s judgment describes a hope that God indeed hears, cares and will vindicate. There is great hope even in the midst of slavin.  There is hope that God hears the cry of the oppressed and will indeed deliver.

This is the story that my community needs–a story of resurrection and hope. In hip hop tradition a cypher presents an opportunity to continue a story that is underway–no time to over think–just let it flow. One kicks it off and another tell the tale of grandeur and exploit and then they pass the mic. My generation is next in line as ole heads have spit their story. Who will shape this generations story? Lord have mercy…it can’t be the story of rims, Tims and ‘up in the club’. I’m not knocking the platform for telling the story—there is not a better communicator of history than the urban story teller. His or her craft; the mixing of beats and lyrics whether on the street corners or in the studios has at least kept folk thinking about those on the bottom. Most history is told from the top by the privileged few who only document the conquest of the mighty. This is not a complete story. We need the Negro spirituals to talk about suffering, the blues to talk about heart ache and gospels to tell of hope despite all the tragedy. We need jazz to communicate our mood and R & B to communicate our love. We need hip hop to communicate our righteous indignation. So the meta-narrative is always being written it just needs some color. It is also important to remember that we exist under a big story of God’s redemptive plan to rescue mankind. In the Biblical text there are some key verses that summarizes the big story–especially of God’s redemptive movement on the earth. 1 Timothy 3:16 describes a key piece of the story:

“Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

The story of the Savior makes all the difference in the world. Jesus came to continue the narrative and invites us to be apart of this story.

——————————-

1. Smith, T. H. (2003). Exodus. In C. West, & E. S. Glaude (Eds.), African American Religious Thought, An Anthology (pp. 309-377). Louisville, Kentucky, USA: Westminster John Knox Press. 318-319

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