Tuesday 8 September 2015

This is Why You Should Tell Your Story

I, being late to the game as I now often am, watched 'Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation' last night. It has the usual dearth of women and people of colour that you would expect from a Hollywood blockbuster, but that's not the point of this.

There is a scene in which Ethan Hunt confronts the villain, Lane(?), with a question about how he went from good guy to bad guy. "You killed so many innocent people on orders without asking why, because you believed you were doing it for the right reasons," or something along those lines. There's another scene involving Elsa(?) with a similar question about the rightness or wrongness of the side they were fighting on. In fact, thinking about it now, I just realised that the whole film runs on a theme about the fluidity of 'rightness', depending on who is in control of the narrative.

I sent out a few tweets this morning about the Christian God, which was the natural consequence of talking about losing my aunt two weeks ago to cancer. I was raised in a fundamentalist evangelical home and tried for a long time to be a 'good Christian', but last year I quit the faith. My de-conversion was informed by a lot of critical thought and personal introspection, as well as a deep sense of betrayal. I have a lot of anger at the church/Jesus/whatever, and much of my healing process (what little of it that there is), is to do with unpacking my feelings with regard to my mother's death and how it completely upturned everything that God had allegedly promised her.

Two weeks ago, three days after what would have been my mother's 58th birthday, six weeks after the third anniversary of my mum's death, my aunt died. She died believing the same things my mother died believing; that her God had promised her health and long life, that she would be healed, that she was faithful and so God would be also. She died in excruciating, mind-numbing pain, just like my mother. She died before ever meeting her first grandchild, just like my mother. She died.

I'm not here to debunk the Bible though, or even to talk about the sucker-punch of emotional distress that her death dealt me. I'm here to talk about the power of the narrative.
 "Until the lion learns to write, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."
I don't know where that proverb is from, but it captures the fact that history is not objective, and that the people in charge of how the story is told can do whatever they want with it. The Bible is an incredible piece of literature, and the way it has been used over the centuries both before and after the coming of Christ is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

Think of the story of Abraham. He took his only child to a secret location to murder him on the instruction of a voice in his head, after kicking out his mistress and her young son--knowing fully well they would die in the desert--in order to appease his half-sister who he married before deserting his responsibilities to his father and family, again on the instruction of a voice he heard. Because of how this story is told, his actions are seen as being not just commendable, but worthy of emulation.

David, a hero King who committed genocides by divine command (Hitler might have fared better as a mega-church pastor, no?), ordered that a married woman he happened to see bathing be brought to his palace so he could sleep with her. This is very clearly rape; there is no logical way to imagine that the question of 'consent' ever came up. Yet this story is presented as one of the great love stories of David's life, with Bathsheba going on to birth his favoured child etc.

The Christian faith was 'the good bit' in the bait and switch used by the British empire to colonise and plunder much of the African continent, and continues to be used as a vessel for exporting and maintaining white supremacy in majority non-white nations, yet Christianity continues to be perceived as a valuable gift brought to us by benevolent missionaries.

There are hundreds -- millions -- of examples of one-sided, prejudiced, teller-centric stories that have been and continue to be told all over the world; the Bible just happens to be the most widely read one. I can assure you that everything you ever learned in school is one-sided and does not accurately capture anything about anything. Apart from--maybe--the physical sciences. Even the story of how human conception happens is the product of a gendered narrative that says the male hunts and the female is a passive prize to be won, despite ample scientific evidence that shows this is not the case.

I don't believe that there is one single, solitary truth in the world. While we cannot expect to hear everyone's side of the story all of the time, it's important to get as many perspectives as possible. There are people who deliberately skew the narrative to fit their own agenda, and there are people who, due to unconscious bias, don't even realise that they are skewing the narrative. It is up to us, especially those of us who have long been spoken for, spoken over, and spoken about, to raise our voices as loud as we can and tell our own stories.

We must tip the scale at least, even if we cannot balance it. We may not have as much power as those who our world is set up to listen to, and our stories may not be given as much credibility, but the people who we are writing into existence, the people we are writing for, the people who are like us, need to hear stories where they can find themselves, lovingly presented, draped with belonging, covered in the beauty of a compassionate telling. I say that we must tell our stories, not for those who have othered and diminished us, but for ourselves.

Reality is relative; we must build our own with the things we know to be true. Speak up, push back, resist with your truth. It is so much more important than you know.


  1. I grew up in a primarily Catholic family, a few of my family members are Pentecostal though. The message I got growing up was "Be devout, but not too devout that you're boring, or a sap that people take advantage oft." Or "Be very devout, and there's nothing God won't do for you."

    I grew up to realize that both were wrong. My mother died despite her devotion. To be anything less than fully committed sounded to me like hypocrisy.

    Christianity does not promise a pain-free life, I'm sorry. It promises suffering and persecution. It promises crosses. God did not spare his own Son crucifixion, why would he spare us cancer? By His Stripes, we are healed of our infirmities, but it is the infirmity of the Spirit, the infirmity caused by sin and living in a fallen world. We are asked everyday to die to ourselves, to take up our crosses (yours, for instance, is your grief) to soldier on, and we aren't promised relief till we die. That's the difference between real Christians and everyone else. We see the face of God when we die. That is our only reward.
    Many churches preach a different message. But ask yourself, what is the point of a God who gives you good things in this life for following him, and then neglects or punishes everyone else? Where is his Love then? His mercy? No. What God asks is: with the good things you have, what have you done? And with the bad things that happened, what have you done? Remember the parable of the talents.

    Your mother and aunt are at peace now. And it hurts like fire in your veins. But we all die. At 5, at 50. We all die. Jesus died at 33. His disciples died at various ages, in savage ways.

  2. The first commenter took the words right out of my lips...