Saturday, May 27, 2006

Two stories

The elder teen is in a book group for high schoolers at our church, where they are discussing McLaren's A New Kind of Christian. Tonight the ladies are watching Bridget Carpenter's Up, which, now that I just read the synopsis, seems like a totally exasperating story.

What I really wanted to tell you about, though, was something I just read from the book. The narrator in the story is a pastor, whose views of spirituality are much like mine. He meets a high-school teacher who, as it turns out, had been a pastor for 17 years before getting a PhD and starting his high-school teaching career. This part struck me -- from the former pastor's sermon on Death:
There are two dominant stories alive in our culture today

Story one goes like this: Once upon a time, the universe banged into being for no apparent reason and with no apparent purpose. Someday it will end and there will be no one left to remember it.

(McLaren, p.86)
Sound like what people around you think? I used to think like that before becoming a Christian. He continues:
Story two begins with a Creator who designs the universe to produce life. The Creator cares about everything he has made, including us. The Creator reaches out to us in many ways, constantly inviting us into a relationship of trust. When we die, we enter into the Creator's presence so that in some sense this life that we now live is a prelude to a dimension of life that never dies.

Now at least one of these stories is false, and if you believe the second story is false, then no wonder you fear death.

Now this is interesting! I think this is a lot better than my essay on the meaning of life. Anyway, McLaren's fictional sermon (which may be real for all I know) goes on, saying what if the first story is true, you've got big problems. You can grab for all the gusto you can in this life, you can try to get the most toys, but "not only can you not take the toys with you, you're not going anywhere you can take them to anyway, and there's no you left and nowhere to go." It continues:
But what if the second story is true? What if, in broad outline, it describes the situation in which we find ourselves? I'm not just talking what if we pretend it's true to help us make it through the night. I'm asking you to consider, what if it is actually, really, accurately, substantially, profoundly, powerfully, definitely, unambiguously, factually, fully, and finally true?

If that's the case, then we can stop fearing death. Because the fear of death takes a terrible toll on life, but when we overcome the fear of death through believing and living by that second story, the reality of death actually yields many gifts.

He goes on to compare the consequences of living by the first story with the consequences of living by the second. You should read it yourself, page 87 of the book. It's basically an expansion of what I quoted above about gusto and dying with toys. "[I]f I am the only one living this way, it's bad enough, but if more and more people are living this way, it's not hard to imagine that you get a world very much like the one ours is fast becoming...."

Reading that reminded me of "the Starbucks Effect" (June 2006 issue of Fast Company -- you might be able to access it here in a few days). Here's the short version: In Dublin, take-out coffee could be gotten only in very small cups and only after about 9am. When Starbucks rolled into town, though, you could get all those varieties, in large, extra large, and gigantic sizes any time after, say, six A.M. It's nice to be able to get that, but the staff has to get up at what, 5:00? 4:30 in the morning? Is that a good tradeoff? We Americans tend to feel like we have no choice, that we have to stay connected 24x7 with our "crackberries" etc. This is the fruit of believing and living by story #1.

But what if I really believe and live by story #2? I'll list some of the things he says: focusing on things that will have value in this life and also in the next; I can maximize the joys of life; I'm grateful for everything; I see hardships in a new perspective. And "[I]f I live this way, it's good for me, but if I can influence more and more people to live this way, then the world will become a very different kind of place, so that in some real way we can say we are entering and experiencing the kingdom of God."

And that reminds me of something that our pastor John has been talking about over the past several months -- that the gospel is about bringing about the kingdom of God; it is not only or mostly about minimum entrance requirements for an individual to get into heaven.

Two stories. Which one do I really believe? Which one do I really live?

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