The Story Behind Everything
Becoming Human, Part One
Up Next: Asking Better Questions
There’s this old abandoned hotel that dominates the skyline in a little Texas town called Mineral Wells. Like a giant who was slain and left to rot, the looming shadow of the empty building is in one point comical, and another, unsettling.
It forces you to ask: what’s the story behind that hotel?
Well, the advances of modern medicine leading to the decreased popularity of the hot springs in Mineral Wells brought the great Baker Hotel giant down. Which left his bricks to become like old dry bones and windows like broken teeth.
There’s a story behind everything.
If you live in the United States you are an American.
And if you’re a white American your story is built on the stuff of freedom, individualism, capitalism and fried food.
You’ve been told the stories of our nation’s forefathers.
Washington’s wooden teeth were gross, so you better keep brushing for two minutes!
Honest Abe was successful because of his integrity. He never told a lie.
Something swells in our chest when we hear the story of Paul Revere’s patriotic ride — The British are coming! The British are coming!
If you’re a minority in America, you’re story might be tinged with oppression, racial profiling, and being cut out of the American Dream.
Or as a Texan, our hearts probably still burn for the Alamo and feel a sense of pride in hearing the stories of San Jacinto. It matters not the violence tied to those events. Or even the racist tone in which the stories are told.
Being American or Texan is not only to occupy a space marked off by arbitrary man-made border lines (let’s face it, that’s what they are — made-up dotted lines). It is a central aspect of your identity.
American & Texan is identity language.
Fifty stars or lone star, it’s the story behind your red, white and blue swim trunks.
And the thing about the stories behind everything is that they are what motivate and activate their subjects. They speak to their host’s central purpose, as well as who or what they are.
Your saying, “Yes I can, it’s a free country,” a million times growing up naturally extends from your freedom laced, individualist American identity.
You act American because your story is American. This extends to all stories for all people and all things. You act your story because, in many important ways, you are your story.
Sometimes there’s a problem behind stories underneath things. Often they hide dark secrets.
For the American story there are some vile things hiding behind the narratives of freedom, individualism and capitalism (I think the problems with fried food are pretty obvious).
The way we like to tell the story ignores that much of the infrastructure of the American life was built by slave labor. Or that the existence of civilization here was garnered through the ethnic cleansing of native peoples under the guise of manifest destiny.
Capitalism has many positive effects on society but it also contributes to a lot of systematic oppression of minority peoples.
Individualism leaves us striving for power, using whatever means we deem necessary to gain more, abandoning community for thrones.
Americans are also driven by our obsession and addiction to consumerism where we need everything bigger, better, more, more, more. The need for more to fill the lack has led to a dangerous amount of depression that is literally killing us. It’s so deep within our psyche we hardly even notice it.
There is a story behind being American and some of it fits the “purple mountains majesty” description, but much of it also lies deep in the dank dark of a mountain cave, like a dungeon of goblins seeking to devour the next passerby.
America is an Empire going about doing empire business. And that business means violently acting out ways to build, secure and ensure its future existence by whatever means necessary.
The point I’m trying to make here is this: we don’t tell the whole story because we don’t want to live with it’s consequences.
There’s a story behind you being human.
I’m not qualified to speak on DNA and the genome, but I do want to talk about a story about becoming human. (Roll credits. Ding!)
The typical three word story goes a little like this: “I’m only human.”
Those three words speak very clearly to the human condition as most of us understand it.
Because we are human, we are prone to mistakes.
Because we are human, we are flawed or broken.
But I want to argue that this story isn’t getting at the whole story. We are flawed, we do make mistakes and there is much to say of brokenness. But it isn’t because we are too human.
It’s because we aren’t human enough.
There’s this other story behind a lot of us (those, who, like me, call themselves Christian) that usually goes like this:
You are a sinner and deserve death. Jesus died for you so you don’t have to get what you deserve.
And while that story holds some true things in it, it’s problematic in a similar way to the American story and especially the human story: it doesn’t tell the whole thing.
The stark and wonderful difference is that, unlike America, the biblical story isn’t hiding some deep dark secret, there are no skeleton’s in the closet, but it’s actually holding something more beautiful and more true. And it isn’t hiding in some cave. Rather, it’s out on a hilltop called Golgotha and in plain sight if we will only have eyes to see and ears to hear.
The biblical story behind, in and through everything is not only a good story; it’s gospel good news.
And it isn’t about becoming less human.
The gospel story is about finally becoming human. (Seriously? Roll credits, again. Ding!)
I truly believe the something behind everything story I want to talk about is more beautiful than we can possibly imagine. And while I can’t convince you (or even myself sometimes, because doubt is hard, gals and guys) that the Christian story is true, I can tell you why I think it’s compelling.
It’s quite a journey. I hope you’ll join me.
Until next time, keep living questionably everybody!
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