On a National Narrative.


This is a follow up to the Video “First Thursday in July:  Fragments of a National Narrative” available on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJW33k-WnjM&t=9s

The opinion was offered in that video that absence or brokenness of a national narrative in American life better explains the difficulty in motivation that appear to plague all but in a particular way younger people, the Z generation.  Blaming that on character faults seems to be a mistake. My take is that absence of national narrative provides with a better understanding of what we are experiencing and how that could be changed.  In a subsequent conversation prompted by the video, has lead to the following thoughts which might be useful in extending this discussion.

A national narrative in the best of times is a work in progress.  So, if someone my age looks back and speaks of the national narrative of his or her youth, they must be wary of nostalgia and fantasy.  Still, I am looking at the fifties in the US, there was a project shaping a narrative which provided me and my contemporaries with a sense that what we were about was meaningful and that the effort it took was worthwhile.  It did so in spite of internal contradictions and misinformation, which were by no means small, and maybe not so different as now.  The question is what sustained it then and what is failing it now in our present American life?

            I would suggest that there was a sub-narrative to carry it forward.  Here is where I get religious, the sub-narrative was the Biblical narrative.  The Abraham out of Ur of Chaldea, Moses out of Egypt, David out of the sheepfold into the kingdom and finally the one that begins “on the night in which he was betrayed.”

            This is the central thesis of my book, On Giving My Word.  That may appear to be a wild and unsubstantiated claim, but where else, I would ask, the does the narrative process begin?  It is often claimed that it began with the Greeks and the Romans.  But the Greek classics, the Iliad and Odessey, are about a return home, a closing the circle by means of a restoration of wht was before.  That is myth, not narrative.  The Romans on the verge of a new age, tettered and reimagined themselves as the new Ilium, see Virgil’s “Aeneid.”  Both Greece and Roman contributed substance to the West, they did not provide it with direction.  That happened when the narrative stream of Christianity passed through them. 

            It is a new question now, to ask if it can continue to do so in our present American life.  The link is suggested by the fact that decline in the belief in God coincides with the floundering American narrative.  The decline in belief is related to a rise in doctrine, whether liberal or conservative or dismissive.  So, a liberal Christianity and a Conservative Christian seem certain that they are opposites, but viewed from the outside they look pretty much alike!  As do I dare say, the atheist!  Doctrine has risen and fallen in the course of history as a replacement for narrative. 

             So, if I was in the pastorate today, I would say to Gen Z, help me. Gen X thought that they did not need the narrative.  They thought that being American was being self-reliant and pragmatic. 

            As has happened before in American life, they find themselves in the end caught it a static reality with nowhere to go.  If you are not to be caught in this quagmire, you need to find a narrative that clarifies from where we have come and illuminates the possibilities of where we might go.  The pattern of this narrative lies in a living Christianity, as opposed to a doctrinal Christianity, which we can, together, launch in the heart of American life.   

Footnote: "living Christianity" is in fact traditional Christianity, a doing it in order to understand it. 

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