Telling a New Story — Center for Action and Contemplation
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Telling a New Story

A New Story

Telling a New Story
Friday, January 15, 2021

In their book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy and her co-author Chris Johnstone talk about the “Three Stories of Our Time.”

In the first of these [stories], Business as Usual, the defining assumption is that there is little need to change the way we live. Economic growth is regarded as essential for prosperity, and the central plot is about getting ahead. The second story, the Great Unraveling, draws attention to the disasters that Business as Usual is taking us toward, as well as those it has already brought about. It is an account, backed by evidence, of the collapse of ecological and social systems, the disturbance of climate, the depletion of resources, and the mass extinction of species.

The third story is held and embodied by those who know the first story is leading us to catastrophe and who refuse to let the second story have the last word. Involving the emergence of new and creative human responses, it is about the epochal transition from an industrial society committed to economic growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world. We call this story the Great Turning. The central plot is finding and offering our gift of Active Hope. [1]

This is where we begin—by acknowledging that our times confront us with realities that are painful to face, difficult to take in, and confusing to live with. Our approach is to see this as the starting point of an amazing journey that strengthens us and deepens our aliveness. The purpose of this journey is to find, offer, and receive the gift of Active Hope. [2]

What Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone call “Active Hope” reminds me of what Beatrice Bruteau, the contemplative Christian scholar, calls “radical optimism.” In her book by that title, she writes:

The deepest truth is our union with the Absolute, Infinite Being, with God. That’s the root of our reality. And it is from that root that my optimism is derived. . . . I believe this radical optimism is the good news of the gospel and I propose that we take it seriously. . . . Optimism, like pessimism, tends to be a self-justifying outlook. The more pessimistic you are, the more you are likely to fail and thus justify your pessimism. And similarly, the more optimistic you are, the more apt you are to succeed and justify your optimism. However, my optimism is not merely pragmatic. I also believe that it is ultimately, metaphysically, true because of its being radical optimism, coming from the root of our being, securely held in the Absolute Being. [3]

I believe that “radical optimism” and “Active Hope” are the keys to the flourishing of a new story. This new story honors the Good Story of our good God and the goodness of all creation, but also gives us the faith and courage to face the difficult realities that are being unveiled in our times.  

References:
[1] Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy (New World Library: 2012), 4–5.

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Beatrice Bruteau, Radical Optimism: Rooting Ourselves in Reality (Crossroad: 1993), 10, 11, 12.

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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