Maybe it’s reading The Lord Of The Rings (again!) to my daughter, over recent months. Or maybe it’s the approach of the final weeks of Term 3 – which means that our Year 12 students and their parts in the narrative of our School, are concluding. Or the wisdom supplied by Dr Andrew Root at the Chaplains Day associated with the recent Anglican Schools Australia Conference, when he talked about our need for stories (in which our moral horizons are formed) to live the ‘good life’. Or John Shortt’s valuable little book, ‘Bible-Shaped Teaching’ (which has provided several ideas that have stimulated some of the thoughts that follow!).
Whatever the reason, I’ve been reminded of the powerful truth that a main way in which we live and understand ourselves and our world, is through stories. Whether it be the time of the ‘holiday story’ at the beginning of each term (‘Where did you go? What did you do?’) or the regular ‘weekend story’ on Mondays (‘What did you get up to on the weekend?’), we are, at the very core of our human identity, story makers. They’re an integral part of our language and the way we think – about ourselves and about others.
We naturally locate ourselves and each other and the things that happen to us and around us in the context of narratives. When new students, for example, arrive at our school, we seek to put them in the place of their life stories thus far: What school did they come from? What have been the narratives of their family life, their education, to that point? Where do their stories intersect with the stories of their peers? What narratives come from their interests, their personalities? And we may wonder what their stories will be like, once our and our school’s participation in them, for however long it may be, comes to an end.
If it’s true that stories (including each of our own life stories) are vital elements of our lives, though, it’s equally true that these stories need bigger stories, for us to make sense of them. One of Agatha Christie’s crime novels, Appointment With Death, begins with a single overheard sentence: ‘You see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?’ On its own, it makes sense as a sentence – but it raises all sorts of questions that can only be answered when the question is located in its much bigger story – identifying the speaker and hearer/s, why the speaker said this, who “she” is, and why she has to be killed…
Accordingly, our own stories are set in the bigger stories of our family situation (past, present and future!), our society, major events such as global pandemics, and even our time in the history of human existence itself!!
Those bigger stories, or metanarratives, are vital to explaining much about why we are what we are, and do what we do (families); why, for instance, we don’t need to come to work on ANZAC Day (society); why we teach and work in the ways we do (history)…
And so we need those metanarratives to help us understand the pattern and significance of the stories we participate in, and interact with, every day.
The Biggest Story of them all – the metanarrative which is bigger than all our collective stories – is the one that provides us with the reason for doing what we do.
It’s God’s Big Story – the metanarrative of our Christian faith, found in the pages of Scripture, that begins with God Himself.
You know it well: God’s creation of humans – their rejection of their Creator and choice to go their own way and (in a sense) create their own story, leading to consequences then and now – God’s action to restore us to relationship with Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus – leading on to the future narrative shrouded in some mystery: Jesus’ promised return to make all things new and bring an ‘unending end’ to this Story.
It’s a metanarrative that we see operating in the lives of those around us, in constant evidence of our world’s brokenness; but also in God’s gracious and restorative work in the lives of many as they hear the ‘good news’ of what Jesus does for fallen humanity.
Knowing this central Christian metanarrative has reminded me to consider a number of ways it also shapes my life story as a School Chaplain. In particular:
- It influences how I am called to view and value colleagues, students, and families in our schools. For a certain amount of time, in each of our contexts, all these individual life stories happen to come together, and even overlap in many ways. Each of us, with our own story, is valued and loved by our Creator; which shapes how we relate to one another; and how we work and talk together with grace, compassion and thankfulness. In the classroom, in the staffroom, each day I come face to face with God’s creations: each one precious in their own right; yet each one flawed and imperfect; but still deserving the same responses of forgiveness and restoration which I enjoy.
- Knowing the Big Story of God, and the future it promises that doesn’t depend on my own fragile attempts, or my successes or failures, gives me hope in the midst of all that lies ahead. I strive to serve with the best of my skills and professional ability given to me by God; but I can also know, if I’m living in the truth of God’s Big Story, that my future is secure in Christ and not dependent on my present circumstances.
- As stories are so important to human living, I need to make sure that I keep telling stories! Stories that engage and enlighten our classroom, each with so many different life stories; stories of God’s Big Story and its influence in people’s lives; and stories that help equip me and my students for life in this world, and beyond.