Whether your realize it or not, everything you believe, everything you do, everything that defines who you are is based on a story that you tell yourself. You may or may not be aware of that story. Most of us aren’t. You inherited that story, most likely when you were a child. Some of us have refined those stories over time or completely rewritten that story or received a new one from someone else.
Am I losing you yet?
What I’m talking about is something called a metanarrative.
A friend of mine, Shah Afshar, recently wrote a post on metanarrative. Here is the definition he had:
“A metanarrative can include any grand, all-encompassing story, classic text, or archetypal (original pattern or model) account of the historical record. They can also provide a framework upon which an individual’s own experiences and thoughts may be ordered. These grand, all-encompassing stories are typically characterized by some form of ‘transcendent and universal truth’ in addition to an evolutionary tale of human existence (a story with a beginning, middle and an end).”
Now, if your eyes haven’t completely glossed over, and you are still reading this, you are probably wondering what does this all have to do with Jon and Kate and their announcement that they are getting a divorce (sorry for spoiling it if you didn’t watch last night’s show). I’ll get to that soon enough. First, I want to share more of what my friend Shah shared on his blog post. He talks about a young man who grew up in a Christian home and went to Bible school to become a pastor, got married and then was divorced 5 years later. He asked the question,
“‘…if my faith, obedience, dedication and spirituality were not enough to keep my marriage together, what else could all the “Christian experts” have been withholding from me?’
It was Tom’s last question that gripped my heart the most. A question that I never asked till I was well in my late 40’s, over 30 years after becoming a follower of Christ. A question that today Christians younger than my own children are asking me over and over again. How did we, evangelical Christians, come to the conclusion that our faith, obedience and spirituality should guarantee us of a life void of pain and failure? Of course, the preacher from the pulpit and the televangelist on TV are quick to point to the Bible. But I believe the answer lies in understanding the word metanarrative.”
Shah goes on to define modernism, postmodernism and metanarrative. He then asks this question:
“Do we, Christians, have our own metanarratives, or as I like to put it, ‘one size fits all stories’? Do we insist that all the stories in the Bible are universal and if something was promised or worked for Abraham, Jabez or David should work for all Christians?”
After giving a personal example of how he was told not to complain about surgery pain because Joseph didn’t complain when he was in prison and talking a bit about Bruce Wilkinson and his well-know book The Prayer of Jabez (read the entire post for more details), Shah makes these concluding remarks:
“To say that because God granted Jabez’s wish, He desires the same for everyone who prays the prayer, is as diluted and misguided as saying, ‘…rational thought, allied to scientific reasoning, would lead inevitably toward moral, social and ethical progress.’ To believe that is simplistic, naïve and denies the complexity and mysteriousness of the God we serve. But even more heart-wrenching is not realizing how much damage Christian metanarratives have done to the faith of Christians like my young friend, Tom, a man who was taught that his faith, obedience, dedication and spirituality should be enough to keep his marriage together. And, of course, the reason his marriage failed was because he wasn’t faithful, obedient or spiritual enough.”
I encourage you to read Shah’s entire post. After finishing the post, I said, “That’s it!” He so well articulated the “harm” that can be caused by traditional evangelical culture. Some people may thing that the word “harm” is a bit harsh, but if what is happening in churches all over North America with people leaving with no desire to return then I don’t think so. We’ve become so convinced that our traditional evangelical metanarratives are truth rather than looking to the source of Truth.
This is where Jon and Kate come in (had to tie them in! it’s news and it’s good for drawing search engine traffic!). There were so many reactions to their announcement to end the marriage yet keep on with the show. So many well-meaning people had their reasons for why they ended their marriage or what they should’ve done or how they could reconcile their marriage. Most of the reasons I read on Facebook, Twitter and blogs were over simplifications of how their marriage could’ve been saved. Marriage is complex, takes hard work, and add to that twins and sextuplets!! Who’s to say what would or wouldn’t have saved their marriage.
I think metanarrative is crucial in children’s ministry. We have the opportunity to help set up children with a metanarrative and is made up of more than simplistic rules or proverbs we need to live by. As children’s ministers, we have the opportunity to help children understand that there is a God out there who is crazy in love with them, has an amazing plan for their lives, is the creator of the universe and wants to use them to do some amazing things in the world. We also have the opportunity to help children understand that does not mean life is going to be easy or void of pain or successful in the eyes of people around us. What it does mean, though, is that we get to play a part in God’s plan of redemption of all of creation and that in and of itself is amazing.
- What metanarratives have governed your life?
- What kinds of metanarratives are you instilling in the lives of children you minister to?
- How are you equipping children to deal with a changing culture and the need to sometimes adapt our metanarratives without losing the Truth at the core of our metanarratives?
- How many of you want me to stop using the word metanarrative?