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A New Story
A New Story

A New Framing Story

Monday, January 11, 2021

A New Story

A New Framing Story
Monday, January 11, 2021

Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions popularized the term “paradigm shift.” [1] A paradigm is a set of beliefs, images, concepts, and structures that govern the way we think about something. Kuhn (1922–1996) said that paradigm change becomes necessary when the previous paradigm becomes so full of holes and patchwork “fixes” that a complete overhaul is necessary. The shift in thinking which might have felt threatening at one time now appears as the only way forward and as a real lifeline. I hope we are at one of these critical junctures again. Might we be willing to adopt a new set of beliefs, values, and systems that could change (and maybe even save) humanity and our world?

My colleague Brian McLaren is a former English teacher and has much to teach us about the power of stories. He uses the language of a “framing story” to describe the same phenomenon Kuhn observed. Brian says a framing story “gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives. It tells them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what’s going on, where things are going, and what they should do.” [2] While we all have stories that answer those questions on a personal level, a “framing story” dictates the general beliefs of a culture, nation, religion, and even humanity as a whole.

Brian writes convincingly that “our growing list of global crises [Richard: even before the COVID-19 pandemic], together with our inability to address them effectively, gives us strong evidence that our world’s dominant framing story is failing.” [3] He reflects:

If it [our framing story] tells us that the purpose of life is for individuals or nations to accumulate an abundance of possessions and to experience the maximum amount of pleasure during the maximum number of minutes of our short lives, then we will have little reason to manage our consumption. If our framing story tells us that we are in life-and-death competition with each other . . . then we will have little reason to seek reconciliation and collaboration and nonviolent resolutions to our conflicts. . . .

But if our framing story tells us that we are free and responsible creatures in a creation made by a good, wise, and loving God, and that our Creator wants us to pursue virtue, collaboration, peace, and mutual care for one another and all living creatures, and that our lives can have profound meaning if we align ourselves with God’s wisdom, character, and dreams for us . . . then our society will take a radically different direction, and our world will become a very different place. [4]

As Christians, we have the opportunity to live the story that was given to us at the very beginning (Genesis 1), that creation is “good,” even “very good,” and that it is our vocation to nurture and grow such goodness wherever we can.

[1] Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 4th ed. (University of Chicago Press: 2012, ©1962).

[2] Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson: 2007), 5–6.

[3] Ibid., 68.

[4] Ibid., 67.

Story from Our Community:
In Colombia, we have been struggling to implement peace for the last six years, after 50 years of armed conflict. The CAC has taught me that this is a time for different answers to the old problems of greed, ambition, hatred and ideological polarization. It is a time for a different spiritual paradigm born out of the mystics (Christians and non-Christians) who have shown us a way to relate to the poor and vulnerable as a sure way to meet the God of all. I have discovered that by making myself go to the frontiers where the poor and vulnerable abide, I am able to meet the God of all humanity. —Louis A.

Image credit: Tree Trunks near Hermitage, Gethsemani (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
We can’t always see the ways trees are in relationship because their complex world of roots lives underground. We, the human family, are also inextricably interconnected.
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