|Untitled - By Me.|
Ever become aware of a "story" that you've been telling yourself? A convenient fiction that you habitually use, because it's easier and more comfortable than really engaging with the truth?
We all do it.
It starts when we're kids. 'Oh, he's just a "boy's boy"!' (he's really rough and aggressive but that's okay)
"She's such a little princess!" (she's spoiled and self-centred, but we'll humour her)
Sometimes these stories remain unchallenged into adulthood. But even if they don't, we will go on to make up new and better fictions.
One of mine is (now shhh... don't tell ;) "Oh I'm just very open and social". Well, I am. But that blithe pronouncement is something I have used, at times, to avoid more honest examination, of my interactions with people. It can be a little mental censor's board that I hold up; shielding me from the fact that I'm... maybe... letting my own neediness show... or what's infinitely worse, toying with the vulnerability of another.
These little fictions gain more power, the more people participate in them. Unhealthy relationships thrive because of them ("I'm helpless" and "he needs me to look after him" are common mutually supporting fictions). As more people buy into a fiction, the fiction becomes stronger. And harder to spot. If you don't believe me, think for a moment about racial segregation, slavery, the fight for women's suffrage... the list of collective "fictions" used throughout history to keep people within a certain "status quo" is infinite. Did (do?) people really believe that some human beings are "lesser" and can be owned? Did women and men in our society really believe that "the weaker sex" was not capable of thinking and deciding fairly? (Tildeb brought this up in a recent comment... it is very true, and history is full of glaring examples)
Of course, once a fiction is pointed out, it loses its power. Once I become aware that my "open and friendly" interactions sometimes have less pure motives, I can no longer comfortably fool myself about it. My beliefs have been exposed, examined and altered, and my behaviour is likely to change.
We will always need narratives. We are social creatures. Collectively held stories and values help us to build communities. And we naturally "filter" our perceptions. If we did not, our worlds would seem overwhelmingly complex. BUT - are all of the narratives we accept true? How many of them are hiding realities we would rather not face?
It seems to me that the tighter we hold onto a particular story, the more likely it is, that the "story" is in fact a "censor's board", shielding us from a reality we fear to face. I've come to see a lot of what goes on in Churches as just this kind of story. Not all of it. But how often do we nod "Amen" to something that is said because it keeps us comfortable in our fiction. We often attend church to be assured that we are on the right track, that we are spiritually safe, and that all will be well. Very often, we are participating in a collective fiction that keeps us safe from belief. Look beneath, and you might find fear and doubt. You might find that your "spirituality" is quite shallow. And this is frightening.
But step back for a moment. If God is really God, then He is what you will find when you have peeled back every layer of fabrication. Something that is ultimately and universally true can never be revealed, understood, or served by fiction. So when we participate in collective story-weaving in order to assuage doubt - we are really concealing our unbelief. Did you catch that?? How much of what we "assent to" in our communities of belief (whether they be christian or otherwise) is really just concealment? How often are we holding on to a raft of fiction, to escape a sea of doubt?
Every social grouping has its fictions. However church should be the one place where it is safe to discard them. Are we brave enough to make it so?