Better Story pt 2

July 17, 2018 Justin Peter Gudel

The Law is all those rules and regulations. It’s those hard guidelines that people include as being necessary for being a Christian or a righteous person. But note, we weren’t made for it, that is, our purpose wasn’t to follow the rules.

My friend Alec is a writer. He knows it to his core. It’s the reason he works at a restaurant. He’s young. He could be filling his life with countless hours of college coursework. He’s intelligent and could find a wide array of other vocations.

Being a server allows him to leave work at work. He doesn’t bring dining room stress home. Instead, he fills the rest of his days living. For Alec, living includes writing daily.

I’m sorry that this post took an additional three days to get out, but this rant is important to both Christianity and evangelism.

The first real step into the better story living is couched in identity.

When I was in college, identity was a hot topic and a growing field of study. Without getting into the more delicate details of that somatic work, I’d point you to the generic points that psychologists use to summarize the process of development.

The shorthand recipe for the development of personal identity comes in three steps.

The first is the discovery of our abilities. In particular, the things that we are good at or are better at than others. The thought here is that once identified, we gravitate towards those skills and see ourselves in light of them. It’s why the kid with the perfect three-point shot and excellent ball handling skills calls himself an athlete. The process of discovering these talents require a great deal of time and development.

The second step is choosing/determining a purpose for life. For the psychologist, the possibilities here are near endless. But the point is after having selected one; we now have a domain in which we can feel success. If I’m a musician, learning a complicated piano piece fills me with a sense of accomplishment.

The final ingredient is seeking out opportunities for our abilities and purpose to move us forward in life. Simply put, an artist that does art will call themselves an artist. The converse to that line of thinking would be an artist that is primarily a banker might sadly call themselves a banker. To be a fulfilled individual, we seek to have an overlap in what we do and how we see ourselves.

To summarize the above:
1) Be better at something than others.
2) Pick a purpose for life.
3) Find opportunities for your abilities to propel you into your purpose.

The above is a very generic look at how some scientists describe the development of identity. There are problems with it. Some people may feel like they have no real talents or after examining their life see only negative traits. An addict might only be able to see themselves as an addict. Additionally, if one’s abilities don’t match with their purpose, they are likely to be frustrated and possibly destined for depression.

Again, this is a very generic model for identity. In particular, I’d like to point out one shortcoming. From the outside, it appears to ignore how relationships can shape us. In reality, those relationships can exist in the first and second step as unsaid possibilities. The combination of those could thus be looked at as: “I’m an amazing friend/mother.” “I make it my priority to assist my friends/children in all their needs.”

THE SPIRITUAL FLIP

My friend Henry teaches anthropology. He’s also a pastor. Some of the following are riffs from our conversations.

Contrary to our western culture, there was a time where identity was first and foremost given to us. This goes back to Biblical/tribal times. It’s still seen today, but it shapes our lives differently than it did then. Modern examples could include nationality or our last/family names. These are still important, but they say more about where we come from than who we are. Few people define themselves solely on being an American.

People once lived covenant lifestyles. In a culture shaped by covenants, identity was first handed down and then furthered by a relation between groups. When it was handed down or cemented in a ceremony, it formed who you were in the tribe. As you progressed in life, you tended to stay within your given space. Often the son of a farmer became a farmer. A daughter of a prestigious family held onto some of that prestige the rest of her life. A son of Abraham was always a son of Abraham, no matter what he became in the future.

To the modern man, this sounds stifling. But bear with me a moment, this system simplified life.

After knowing who you were, you could move forward in life with a particular type of certainty. You still had unique personalities. You might be the only redhead or best chess player. What I’m getting at is that we were never a carbon copy of their parents. And yes, people did move from one profession to another as their skills and needs afforded them.

Tribal living allowed people to worry less about who they were. They didn’t need to discover who they were. They knew and were then able to live out that life.

Compared to the three steps from above, this process for development would look like:
1) Identify is given to you.
2) Your purpose is to live a full life.
3) Living life included developing your skills and gifts.

Note that personal discovery comes from the second and third steps here.

In the Genesis account, God creates Adam and Eve. He tells them who they are. He then gives them a purpose — be fruitful and multiply.
1) You are my cherished creation.
2) Your mission/purpose is to live a full life being fruitful and multiplying.
3) Recognizing your purpose propels you into developing your skills and gifts.

Better story living picks up here. It’s in the be fruitful and multiplying step, also seen as step 2. Too often Christians have made Christianity into following the rules and worshiping God. These are essential parts of the faith. These aspects all come straight from scripture. But they come later. They are codified as we tried harder and harder to understand our place and responsibility.

Eventually, God gave in and gave us lines of conduct.

So let’s back up. Let’s look first at the worship angle.

The first act of worship recorded in the Bible was Adam and Eve tending a garden. By following God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, they were living full lives that were making the world a better place. Let us have evangelism start at this line and idea. Part of our purpose is to live. The first act of worship is to live! To live in this world that God created for us and to live in such a way that we’re making it a better place (fruitful). We do that when we’re using our skills and abilities. When we get better at things, we are fulfilling our purpose.

That second angle (or point of derision) of following the rules, it’s all about not messing things up. Looking at the ten commandments, they are all pointed at things not to do if your goal is to make the world a better place. If our purpose is to be fruitful and multiply, then these rules are firm guidelines for not messing up.

Let’s look at the new testament.

Jesus reminds the Pharisees (the religious right of his time) that, “the Law was made for man and not man made for the Law.” The Law is all those rules and regulations. It’s those hard guidelines that people include as being necessary for being a Christian or a righteous person. But note, we weren’t made for it, that is, our purpose wasn’t to follow the rules.

Paul wrote one of his letters to the church in Rome and it he urges them to be living sacrifices. Sacrifices are part of worship. To be a living sacrifice, you should live in such a way that you were fruitful and multiplying. You were tending to creation in such a way that the world was a better place. It goes without saying that this included those rules and regulations because breaking those rules was the opposite of being fruitful. When we take what is not ours, we hurt our fellow man. When we cheat on our spouse, we dishonor them and ourselves. When we murder, we are breaking the better story.

In better story living, our purpose is to live full lives. We further tend the garden when we bring more color to it. We multiply when we bring others into the story. We’re personally fruitful when we use our gifts to improve the lives of those around us.

The ultimate task of this type of living is growing the team. The more garden shears the better. That is where evangelism comes in. A sole individual trying to make the world a better place is a tragic character. They’d make a great protagonist for a movie or book, but they aren’t going to get much down.

So here is where evangelism pops up. Evangelism is the invitation to others to take part in this mission. It’s a reminder that those we talk to already have an identity that matters. That they don’t need to feel successful in their chosen purpose to be accomplished. Because their real purpose is in making life better.

The better story starts here. It isn’t finished until it connects the individual to the grand narrative.

The above is all true. Still, until the individual knows Jesus, they’ve only seen the outside shape of it all.

This is because the narrative gets more significant when we see it come full circle.

God made all of creation for us. We worship Him when we live a fruitful and multiplying life in that creation. God covers all of our failures in this endeavor with Jesus sacrificing Himself (His life and death are an act of worship) for our shortcomings. His act again invites us to live fully. We do that with our gifts and abilities. We do that when we improve the lives of those around us. We do that when we bring more people into the team.

The Law is still there. But the Law isn’t the point. The point is knowing who we are, who God is, and living into that purpose of worship by living fruitful and multiplying lives.

I’m a writer, an artist, and a person who asks too many questions. But really, those are aspects of who I really am. I’m a man who is trying to make the world a better place. I do this by loving the people in my life and shining a light on the things that we need to focus more attention on. I’m often the ‘negative Nancy’ in a board meeting. But it’s because deep down, I’m always asking what’s the cost for this activity. The deep dive into who I am reaches the one thing that I can’t stop doing. I make observations and then I express them. It’s the key to my being fruitful. It’s part of my better story.

Boys and Girls on the internet, let’s have a better time living together.