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A New Story

A New Story

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Week Two Summary and Practice

Sunday, January 10—Friday, January 15, 2021

Sunday
A Great Story connects our little lives to the One Great Life, and even better, it forgives and uses the wounded and seemingly “unworthy” parts.

Monday
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. —Brian McLaren

Tuesday
The story we believe and live in today has a lot to do with the world we create for our children, our grandchildren, and our descendants one hundred thousand years from now (if?). —Brian McLaren

Wednesday
We are all looking for a larger and more loving story in which to participate. This is what God gives us!

Thursday
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. —Michael Nagler

Friday
The deepest truth is our union with the Absolute, Infinite Being, with God. That’s the root of our reality. —Beatrice Bruteau

 

Living a New Story

True conversion doesn’t happen just because we change our minds about something. Our choices won’t change until we truly believe a more compelling story. And as much as we want it to, the world won’t change until we ourselves become active participants in the expansion of consciousness and the restoration and healing of all things. This week’s practice from Brian McLaren provides steps we can take toward living a New Story.

If we disbelieve the dominant framing story and instead believe Jesus’ good news of the kingdom of God, we will suddenly find ourselves making new personal decisions—not because we have to, as a duty, but because we want to, because we are now liberated from the cramped possibilities of the old framing story. . . . “Saved by our faith,” we will pray differently. Prayer will cease to be a technique for enlisting God to help us “make it” in the dominant system; it will instead become a way of bathing our inner world in the transforming presence of God, a way we seek to be shaped by the new framing story, the new reality, the good news, so that we can be catalysts bringing transformation to the dominant system.

If we disbelieve the old framing story and believe the good news, we will also work differently. When we realize that the most powerful world-changing work we can do is simply to believe, as Jesus told his original disciples (John 6:29), we experience liberation from panicked, frantic, desperate, incoherent, and often fruitless or counterproductive action. We rediscover Sabbath and rest and even play, and we come to our work with a new sense of energy and purpose. We will no longer be “just” anything—just a homemaker, just a laborer, just an accountant, just a kindergarten teacher. No, whatever our work, we will do it as agents of the kingdom of God, builders of a new world.

We will also buy differently. For example, when faced with a choice between an inexpensive pair of pants produced by a corporation that exploits workers (whom we now see to be our neighbors), we will choose a more expensive pair produced by a corporation that treats its workers fairly. Maybe we’ll own fewer pairs of pants, but we’ll feel better wearing them. We will vote differently, drive differently, invest differently, eat differently, volunteer differently, treat our neighbors differently, and so much more. Multiply all these kinds of daily personal decisions by the increasing numbers of people for whom they make sense, and you begin to see the power of personal action inspired by a new kind of faith.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson: 2007), 297‒298.

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

Pearson, Paul M, ed., Beholding Paradise: The Photographs of Thomas Merton (Paulist Press: 2020).

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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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.
Read Full Entry

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.

References:
[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.
Read Full Entry

A New Story

Love Is the Protagonist
Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Like me, Brian McLaren has spent many decades “on the edge of the inside” of the institutional Church. Although he often critiques the stories told by Christian denominations, he has never tired of the Jesus story or failed to believe in its power to transform the world. Brian and Gareth Higgins write:

Jesus came to subvert all stories of violence and harm, not repeat them.

Instead of patriarchal stories of domination, he taught and embodied service, reconciliation, and self-giving.

Instead of stories of violent revolution or revenge on the one hand or compliant submission on the other, he taught and modeled transformative nonviolent resistance.

Instead of the purification stories of scapegoating or ethnic cleansing, he encountered and engaged the other with respect, welcome, neighborliness, and mutuality.

Instead of inhabiting a competitive story of accumulation, he advocated stewardship, generosity, sharing, and a vision of abundance for all.

Instead of advocating escapist stories of isolation, he sent his followers into the world to be agents of positive change, like salt, light, and yeast.

And instead of leaving the oppressed in stories of victimization, he empowered them with a vision of faith, hope, and love that could change the world. [1]

Richard again: One time after I spoke at a business breakfast about the Kingdom of God being a win-win world, a very successful man I knew came up to me and said, “You know, Richard, that story is not even interesting. How could I get my juices going in the morning without competition?” When we’re trapped in a narrative of winners and losers, especially if we think of ourselves as winners, the Jesus story really isn’t that interesting! Brian and Gareth put it this way:

The earlier six stories all claimed that the path to peace, security and happiness was about “winning” . . . but 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. [2]

The hearts of more and more children, young people, adults, and senior citizens are yearning for a new story, a story of love rather than hate, of creativity rather than destruction, of win-win cooperation rather than win-lose competition, of peace-craft rather than war-craft.

They are waiting for a new story to explore, inhabit, and tell. [3]

We are all looking for a larger and more loving story in which to participate. This is what God gives us! Our ordinary lives are given an extraordinary significance when we accept that our lives are about something more meaningful than winning and succeeding inside of a very small plot line.

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren and Gareth Higgins, The Seventh Story: Us, Them, & the End of Violence (Porch: 2018), 79.

[2] Ibid., 38, 40–42.

[3] Ibid., 80–81.

Story from Our Community:
My brother connected me to the [Daily] meditations five years ago when my world had fallen apart. By 50 I had experienced great loss, including the deaths of two children. These meditations have helped me make God-sense again in my broken life. Thank you to Fr. Richard and the team for your generous, wise, encouraging and inclusive words. They bring me back again and again to that quiet place in God’s lap, meditating in whatever form. —Liz 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.
Read Full Entry

A New Story

A Hopeful Story
Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Human beings fall easily into despair, and from the very beginning we invented stories that enabled us to place our lives in a larger setting, that revealed an underlying pattern, and gave us a sense that . . . life had meaning and value. . . . [Story] is not about opting out of this world, but about enabling us to live more intensely within it. —Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth

Nearly two decades ago, Brian McLaren began urging Christians to embrace a more healing, compassionate story by which to live. His words are just as relevant today:

In these dangerous times, our whole planet now needs more than ever a good story to live in and to live by. There are a number of stories competing for the hearts and imaginations of humanity as we emerge together into this new century and millennium: the regressive stories of fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity, or the progressive stories of secular “scientism” or American consumerism, for example. Once taken to the heart of human culture, each of these stories will produce its own kind of world. . . . The story we believe and live in today has a lot to do with the world we create for our children, our grandchildren, and our descendants one hundred thousand years from now (if?). [1]

I have to admit that twenty years ago most of us probably thought a hundred thousand years of human thriving sounded likely, but I’m afraid that it sounds almost fanciful to many of us today. Great and hopeful thinkers like Brian, Joanna Macy, Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Ilia Delio and others give us the faith, scientific understanding, and courage to continue to do our small part. In one of his more recent books, Brian writes with his friend Gareth Higgins about a “Seventh Story.” It is a cosmic and all-inclusive story which, if believed and lived out, leads to a very different future, one of healing instead of conflict.

Around the margins, another narrative has been taking shape during these most recent moments of . . . history. In this narrative, humans envision learning to live in harmony with one another and with the boundary conditions (or laws) of nature. We imagine seeing all our fellow humans—and all living things—as part of one family of relations, sharing in the same unfolding story or song of creation. We imagine ourselves creating conditions in which peace and well-being are not only possible but normal, and in which inevitable conflicts can be resolved through justice, kindness, wisdom, and love. . . .

As the amazing 13.8 billion-year story of the cosmos continues to unfold, in this little corner of the universe, we hope to tell a story of justice and joy, love and peace, for the benefit of future generations who will be born into the story that there is no [us and] them at all. [2] This is a cosmic and inclusive story that demands healing more than punishment.

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves in: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian (Jossey-Bass: 2003), xiv.

[2] Brian D. McLaren and Gareth Higgins, The Seventh Story: Us, Them, & the End of Violence (Porch: 2018), 163–164.

Story from Our Community:
My brother connected me to the [Daily] meditations five years ago when my world had fallen apart. By 50 I had experienced great loss, including the deaths of two children. These meditations have helped me make God-sense again in my broken life. Thank you to Fr. Richard and the team for your generous, wise, encouraging and inclusive words. They bring me back again and again to that quiet place in God’s lap, meditating in whatever form. —Liz 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.
Read Full Entry

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.

References:
[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.
Read Full Entry
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