This ten-part A Deacon’s Musing series will explore the intersection between the change philosophy known as Appreciative Inquiry and a Christian theological orientation grounded in diversity. I am most grateful to be co-shaping this conversation with my mentor and friend Maureen McKenna. We sincerely hope that the definitions, metaphors, theological reflections, images, and videos help impart the significant generative potential that is rooted in appreciation, gratitude, and abundance.
As this Appreciative Inquiry series of theological reflections unfold, you can find each blog on the Tabs above.
If you listen closely to the world today, the narratives that are the loudest leave one with a sense of weight, perhaps even despair. Fake news, propaganda, the party-line, orthodoxy may be dominant and they remind us that we are story-tellers.
In our interconnected, digitised, wired world, we are, in fact, awash in narratives. Stories that compete for our attention, our money, our allegiance. As a result, we often might feel overwhelmed, confused, isolated, and even fearful. There is, obviously, a sad irony in that admission. Since time immemorial, people have shared stories to foster a sense of community, yet in the world we inhabit, people can also intentionally use stories as weapons. Whether we listen to tales of one ethnic group being responsible for a country’s state of affairs or stories that flatten people based on ability, gender, or sexual identity, the human species has used various narratives to cause harm.
In this age in which our attention seems under siege, what we listen to becomes a significant choice. What tales we read, what stories we seek, the kind of narratives to which we are drawn begin to shape what we see in ourselves and others. This central point, awakening to choice, cannot be over stressed.
What we want to begin to see starts with the character we want to be. This choice, however, is not relative; it is relational. This choice is central to the traditional phrase of the scripture passage that began this reflection about the emergent Narrative Principle of Appreciative Inquiry: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.”
The Abrahamic faiths have always known the power of story. In fact, the tradition and those who have and continue to live out that narrative are sometimes referred to as “the people of the Book.” From a Christian vantage, the narrative to which we endeavour to honour and live has always been subversive. It has undermined tales of power and dominance with paradox and what, outside of a faith context, seems irreconcilable. The Word begins in the Holy, and we become the actors in a tale that exists outside of time. But in our Now, we are reminded of a story much greater than any one of us.
I think for the church – in changing times and in a world that sometimes seems on the brink of chaos – this is an exciting time. With intention, we are constantly being asked to reflect upon where we place our attention.
Where we look reveals a story: it could be consumerism that invites us to be defined by what we have, how we look, and (in turn) how we are judged. It could be a story of deficit and a longing for days of yore, when knights battled dragons, and gender roles were clear. Perhaps we focus on tales of might and arms, nationalism, and “my tribe is bigger than yours.” These are just a few of the stories one can find in the traditional pages of a Saturday morning newspaper or the bytes played from the most recent CBC podcast. And … if we are aware of these competing narratives, it is exciting to revisit the one to which we aspire as Christians.
In this world of hurt and suffering, we are invited as an Easter people to not only see new life, but also to be those who nurture that in one another. We are lovingly beckoned to sow seeds, to curate, to be the hands of love without judgement, but all with conviction. In a time and age filled with the din of fear and anger, we know we are loved for the Word has always been and always shall be.
Now this might seem flowery and trite, naïve and simplistic. And though I can acknowledge such challenge, this narrative leads to powerful and transformative choices. From the beginning, as Jesus’ ministry unfolded and he opened himself to be love, he found challenge and choice. He found ministry did not mean he was right, but that he could make mistakes and even fail. He heard the wisdom of others.
In this journey of humility, Jesus chose to stand-in solidarity with the marginalised – whom the sacred Christians’ scripture often refer to as the “widows” and “orphans.” Often the poor and the lost lived in a story of dejection and rejection, but he came being love. In being this presence, he placed himself on a trajectory with an Empire that did not – does not – tolerate critical thinking and critique. Even more troubling for those with power are choices that challenge them, which often results in the use of force as a corrective.
The use of violence has always been our default to quell and silence. Yet the Word, in the Christian story, survives death. In fact, we call this the Good News. To be love is to recognise the danger that comes with it in a world of insecurity. In times of change, knowing one’s story intimately leads people and congregations to do amazing things. Whether we talk about people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Lydia Gruchy or congregations that repurpose their property to offer affordable housing, or who walk in the face of violence with friends, kin, and Sisters and Brothers in the LGBBTTQ+ communities, the only limitation lies in the extent to which we know and are our story.
The Narrative Principle invites us to claim our story. In what story do we want to be …?