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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Seven Stories: Part One
The Seven Stories: Part One

The Stories That Don’t Work

Monday, January 29, 2024

In their e-book The Seventh Story, Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins create a tale of the origin of seven stories of how humans—The People—interact and live with one another:

One day, a long time ago, one of The People saw another one of The People holding something shiny. “I want it,” said one of The People, so he took it. When he got back home that night, the rest of The People were amazed. “Because I have a shiny object,” he proclaimed, “You have to listen to me.” He told them a story about what he had learned about how to be happy, how to have peace and security, how to keep the shiny thing that he had found. The first story [the domination story] said that the way to be happy is to rule over others.

But every time that story was attempted, people were unhappy because the rulers oppressed them. So a second story was invented: Let’s overthrow the rulers. This [revolution] story didn’t work either because it just turned the tables, putting new people under oppression.

Another story began in which the old revolutionaries withdrew into their own isolated spaces and judged the world. Nothing changed. These island communities used the same old stories to run themselves, competing to be in charge … and dominating each other.

Meanwhile, the domination story and the isolation story had a business merger, which resulted in an experiment: if they could get rid of the people they didn’t like, who looked or sounded different, or whose customs weren’t like their own, surely that would fix things? Of course, that [purification] story just led to more suffering.…

The People still weren’t happy, and they knew it…. The People tried to convince themselves that things were okay by accumulating things; toys or nations, it was all the same to them.… The People kept hurting, and hurting each other. A sixth story [the victimization story] was created…. The People would make sure that no one would ever forget that they were the victims, that their suffering was their very identity, and that no one had suffered as much as them.… Then, something new; a poet came to town, a storyteller who knew that the domination story, the revolution story, the isolation story, the purification story, the accumulation story, and the victimization story were all destined to fail.

They were destined to fail because they invited every human being, who is already interdependent with every other human being, and even with the earth itself, to pretend instead that we are in a competition.… The poet had a radical idea, the seed of a Seventh Story that will heal the world.… In the Seventh Story, the story of reconciliation, we still get to win, just not at anybody else’s expense. In the Seventh Story, human beings are not the protagonists of the world. Love is.

Gareth Higgins and Brian D. McLaren, The Seventh Story: Us, Them, and the End of Violence (Brian D. McLaren and Gareth Higgins, 2018), 12–27, 30–32, 36–37, 40–42. Used with permission. For further resources, see The Porch Community.

Image credit and inspiration:  Kevin Erdvig, Untitled (detail), United States, 2018, photograph, public domain. Click here to enlarge image.

So much depends on the stories we tell. What stories will we choose to pass on?

Story from Our Community:  

I find myself quite alone in a Protestant denomination that is becoming more fundamentalist.… These days, I find myself literally weeping with frustration and helplessness during each service of worship. I find myself “doing mental gymnastics” to silently translate the hymns, scripture readings, and liturgy into inclusive language. When I served as a minister in a community of faith, I was able to use inclusive language but now, as a retired minister, I have no control. It is a desperately lonely place to be. These Daily Meditations assure me that there are others who live in affirming and inclusive ways. My gratitude knows no bounds. I’m sure mine is not a lone voice in this experience, even though sometimes it feels that way. —Jenny S.

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