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A New Story
A New Story

A New Story to Replace the Old

Thursday, January 14, 2021

A New Story

A New Story to Replace the Old
Thursday, January 14, 2021

In this time of unveiling, new stories need to be told about everything from ecology and faith to money and power, and they need to be told from many different perspectives. Only as we contemplate and engage new paradigms and visions can we discern where and how God is calling us to act. Author and educator Michael Nagler shares his version of a new story based on his decades-long commitment to the practice of nonviolence. He writes:

The new story [is] the term we use today for the new—to us—model of a universe of consciousness and purpose, of unity and sufficiency. . . .

The currently prevailing story—the old story [Richard: which is really only as old as the Enlightenment], that we live in a material, random universe, so that we, too, are primarily physical objects that need material things to be fulfilled—has led us to a permanent state of competition, not excluding violence. Whether you look at the story itself or its practical consequences, many—myself included—feel it’s radically wrong. We are body, mind, and spirit, and we’re embraced in what Martin Luther King famously called a single garment of destiny. [1] Life is not random, and we are not helpless to change it.

And right now the key change will be the change of the story itself.

Within the emerging new story . . . just about every social change that thoughtful people have long been yearning for—including the change to a sustainable planet—becomes more thinkable, and doable.

Take, for example, the acute inequality that has polarized our society (and, to a lesser extent, societies in other lands). What drives it is greed. The same greed that drives some to profit from war and armaments—the greed that is a nearly ubiquitous source of suffering for the many (and even for the few who seem to benefit financially). Is not greed, in turn, a function of the belief that we are primarily physical entities in competition with others? . . .

Greed is behind so many destructive processes; greed that’s reached unheard-of proportions today, creating an inequality that makes meaningful democracy impossible. But what is behind greed itself? It could not exist without the idea that a human being is material and separate from others, including the environment we live in.

Violence, inequality, war, the environment, and almost any aspect of society we can think of are rooted in the old story. . . .

In contrast to the old story—which held that the universe is primarily made of matter, has no discernable purpose, and scarcity, competition, and violence are inevitable—the new story sees the universe as primarily consciousness and the human being as body, mind, and spirit, able to locate and carry out their life’s purpose in a meaningful—indeed, fundamentally benevolent—universe.

Richard again: This new story is, of course, as old as incarnation itself! Somewhere along the line, we lost the thread of the true story of union, of wholeness, of God-with-us and us-for-each other.

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963).

Michael N. Nagler, The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.: 2020), 10, 13–14, 15, 17.

Story from Our Community:
2020 is a year that I will not forget. I am an African American woman with a daughter the same age as Breonna Taylor. I have a son who could have been Ahmaud Arbery or Trayvon Martin or any of the others who lost their lives because of the color of their skin. I work in social services and daily I see those in need suffer more and more. I struggle with how to truly help. With all of that said, my faith in God has not wavered. Thank you for being a light in this time, bringing me comfort and direction. I will never be able to express my deep gratitude for Richard Rohr and the CAC. —Lora C.

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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