What’s Your Story?

Isn’t just looking upon this world already something of an invention? The world isn’t just the way it is, it is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story? … You want words that reflect reality? ‘Yes.’ Words that do not contradict reality.  ‘Exactly.’ … 

I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you, that will confirm what you already know, that won’t make you see higher, or further, or differently. You want a flat story, an immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.

Excerpt from The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I just finished listening to the audio book, The Life of Pi. In it, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel tells his remarkable survival story. Everyone has a survival story. In fact, everyone tells themselves a story in order to survive. Our story helps us cope. It is a way of interpreting the events of our lives, of making sense of those events, ourselves, and the people around us. It’s kind of like another way of seeing something I’ve always known was true: people interpret life’s events, others’ words, even their own actions through a belief system I call a grid. Grids are the human way of understanding the world, and we all have one – one major worldview that helps us make sense of our lives.

We begin to construct our grids at a very young age using a combination of what we are taught and how we react to the world as a result of our own individual personalities. We live in a broken, messed up world and have to learn quickly how to cope. Perhaps the person who takes his own life does so because he or she no longer possesses the tools to interpret his life in a way that makes sense.

This happened to a dear relative of mine a few years ago. He completely lost touch with reality for a couple of years. Those around him who were trying to help had many different speculations as to what was happening: a chemical imbalance in the brain, schizophrenia, mis-prescribed medications, and others. I think he just lost his ability to explain the world around him and the world inside him.

That’s the other piece I took from the book: there’s an entire universe inside each of us. Dreams, ideas, and inventions, thoughts we cannot control, habits we cannot break, feelings we cannot find a cause or an outlet for, and an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Despite our desire for connection, our propensity for community, we are still alone in the end. Who can begin to understand my story? So much chaos whirling around inside these little heads of ours. Add to that our attempts to understand the words, actions, and emotions of others and you have the definition of OVERWHELMED.

I think that’s why we compartmentalize. Our grid serves as a way to sort through the various aspects of our world into separate compartments that we find manageable. Probably the number one way we in the West understand the world around us is dualistically. The Life of Pi ‘preached’ against dualism more than any of other philosophy. From Piscine’s determination to find God through three contradictory religions (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam), to his almost symbiotic relationship with a deadly Bengal tiger aboard a lifeboat, Yann Martel said over and over again in a hundred different ways that dualism is a poor way to deal with life’s complications. He makes it clear that even lost at sea in a lifeboat he shared with Richard Parker, there are many ways to look at life’s circumstances – not everything can be interpreted as either black or white.

In the end, we all believe the story we tell ourselves is the ‘truth’, factual, the real thing, the only story. Yann Martel makes a strong case for the question of whether or not any of us know the ‘real’ story (maybe we can’t know it), and he asks that we take note when someone we come into contact with has a story which contradicts ours. How often do we sacrifice relationship and growth in our determination to make our story ‘right’? We stubbornly hang on to our own construct – an illusion of safety – often at the expense of those around us. Maybe the problem isn’t that we believe the ‘wrong’ story, maybe it’s just that we are unwilling to truly hear anyone else’s. What if, in the end, everyone’s story is ‘wrong’ and the real point of life was learning to love in spite of it all?

2000 years ago a group of Pharisees resorted to murder to protect the story they told themselves. Throughout the centuries the church has continued to do this as if more violence is the solution to violence. Jesus showed us another way. He told a different story to the violence we use to understand and control our world. I wonder to what lengths I would go in order to protect the story that makes sense of my life? To what extent have I sacrificed relationship in my determination to be ‘right’?

Maybe this is exactly why Jesus told parables. Parables, unlike any other story, can be interpreted in so many different ways. Filled with multiple applications, they are designed to both enlighten and confuse. Maybe Jesus’ very use of the parable is proof that knowing the ‘right’ story was never the point. And maybe, just maybe, the Word of Life is the only one able to ‘correctly’ interpret each of our stories. That’s what I believe ‘judgment day’ will be all about: helping me understand my story.

In the meantime, I want to learn to listen to other peoples’ stories, fully aware that I hear through my own grid, somehow finding a way to love in spite of my misunderstanding and contradictory construct. Jesus didn’t promise that people would know Him by how right we are; He promised people would recognize Him by how well we love one another. In the end, only grace signifies, and love really will win.

QUOTE: God Needs No Defense

There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God. As if ultimate reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy, begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street and think, “Business as usual.” But, if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening. 

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves, for evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open battlefield of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush. 

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

 Matthew 25

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

.  .  .

45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

… For What?

The idea of time keeps messin’ with my head. I woke up yesterday morning (2:30 a.m. … 3:45 a.m. … finally at 4:25 a.m) with the sensation of holding my breath. Like I was waiting for something. But what?

No clue what. Thought about it all day. The saying, ‘Life happens while you’re making plans’ came to mind. But I’m not planning anything. At least not consciously. The closest I come to a plan these days is packing my lunch the night before I go to work, or looking at the tennis schedule to see if I’m on this week, or putting in for time off to go home for Christmas. Still, life is happening … and me with the sensation that it’s happening around me, almost like I imagine an out of body experience might be.

Baited breath. Anticipation. Waiting. That knot in my throat keeping me from swallowing or taking a deep breath. Did you know there’s a sign on the cork board in front of my desk instructing me to ‘breathe deep’? I put it there 6 months ago.

It occurred to me that I’ve lived this way for a long time. The experience is not new but the awareness of it is. Interesting. Why the recognition now? Probably because that time thing has been messin’ with me. My daughter reminded me yesterday afternoon about living in the moment. I reminded her of the impossibility of that venture – as soon as you are ‘in a moment’ that moment is gone. So instead of living ‘in the moment’ we are forced to live moment by moment. We do that whether we are aware of it or not.

We spend so much of our lives waiting. As children we wait to grow up … young adults wait to meet their mate … adults wait for their children to arrive … grow up … come home for a visit. People wait for the perfect job to come along, or whatever circumstance they are in to change. We wait for planes, packages, people, and events. We spend our lives waiting … to die. That’s what time does. It’s killing us one second at a time.

wait

verb (used without object)

1. to remain inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens (often followed by for, till,  or until): to wait for the bus to arrive.
2. (of things) to be available or in readiness: A letter is waiting for you.
3. to remain neglected for a time: a matter that can wait.
4. to postpone or delay something or to be postponed or delayed: We waited a week and then bought the house. Your vacation will have to wait until next month.
5. to look forward to eagerly: I’m just waiting for the day somebody knocks him down.

So what am I waiting for? ‘Your next life, maybe, who knows’ (the Oracle to Neo in The Matrix). My next life? Yes. Absolutely I am waiting for that. I eagerly await an end to time as well … an end to waiting. But that’s not where the knot’s coming from.

What are you waiting for? Your next promotion … your spouse to change … your kids to be old enough to go to school … the cure to an illness … retirement? I once heard someone say, “My favorite verse in the Bible is ‘it came to pass’ … and everything comes to pass.” True. Perhaps everything comes to those who wait as well. I wonder if I have to know what I’m waiting for to see it come? It’s coming whether I know what it is or not. I just hope I don’t miss it before it passes. It’d be nice to live knot-free.

Quote: “We considered him stricken by God, but …

Daily Prompt: Imitation/Flattery

by michelle w. on November 30, 2012

Write a post about anything you’d like — in the style of your favorite blogger. (Be sure to link to them!)

Did God really pour out his wrath against sin on his Son to satisfy his own need for justice? Or did God-in-Christ forgive the world even as it unleashed its wrath against him? Was Christ’s sacrifice the ultimate fulfillment of God’s demand for redemptive bloodshed Or was the cross God’s great “No” to that whole system?” Back Cover, Stricken by God? Edited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin

Thanks, JS for the idea!