Clashing of Narratives


This past week, I was intrigued by a news article quoting a White House communications spokeswoman saying, “Do falsehoods matter as much as what we get right?” With all the discussion about alternative facts and fabricated truths, what is reality? Which narrative is true? In our reading today, from Second Samuel, we come across a very interesting story that confronts how false narratives are challenged by a metaphor. Our reading from the Old Testament follows the political drama telling how the great King David used his power to appease his desire for a woman, who becomes pregnant, and then King David orders her husband to the frontline of battle where he is killed. All of a sudden, readers of the Old Testament are torn—how could the humble shepherd boy become a King who abuses power?! Possibly, King David is just the typical King who does what he has to in order to maintain law and order. The people of Israel connected to Yahweh through the kings, and King David’s actions sends a disturbance among the Israelites.

Across our nation and our world, a disturbance in the Force (in Star Wars parlance) manifests. In ecological terms, the narratives of life and its harmonies are very much clashing as competitive evolutional actions replace collaborative evolution connections. Ecology is important theologically because it is the Great Connector.

Humanity has lost its connection to God’s incarnation, Creation.

The first casualty in human existence, I believe, was truth. We are always seeking truth and it is in our nature to do what we can to gain information to learn more. The primary mission of our Central Intelligence Agency is to study the world to help make decisions regarding national security. Ironically, when you enter the CIA headquarters at Langley, you are met by the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” Jesus spoke those words when Jewish leaders interrogated him about his identity. About seven years ago, huge media press alerts, the CIA created a Center on Climate Change and National Security. Two years later, silently through a memorandum, it was shut down, citing terrorism as the number one threat to our national security, not climate change.

The narrative of national security in relation to terrorism stimulates industrialization and militarization, which not only rampantly threatens the ecological balance, but also threatens humanity’s connection to Earth and to one another. Disconnection, at first, starts off small—looking the other way when someone needs help; deciding processed food is much simpler than the care involved in cultivating a garden. Riding the surge of privilege, whether racial or economic, progresses the hostage-like relationship to a culture of exploitation. Embracing individualistic rights, so intrinsic in our Constitution, pits individualism versus community. No wonder humanity is mesmerized by materialism as an escape from our mortality: Death now feared; no longer understood as part of our Divine mythic journey. Greed overpowers the awe of birth and death; humanity chooses to pursue the “ultimate life” even if it means the Earth and its people are trampled.

The concept of saving the Earth while trying to find one’s way is the main theme of the 2014 science fiction film, Interstellar. Donald, a character in Interstellar, observes, “When I was a kid, it seemed like they made something new every day. Some, gadget or idea, like every day was Christmas. But six billion people, just imagine that. And every last one of them trying to have it all.” His comments echo what Gandhi discerned: “The earth is sufficient for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greeds.”1 The aspect of taking from the earth philosophically renders a very dysfunctional relationship with the Earth. Greed infiltrates an awareness to care for Earth, as self-indulgence invades an understanding of relationships with one another. In America, the narrative of profiting from the abuse of people continues over and over. Profiting from incarceration. Profiting from homeland security. We must not overlook the tremendous pain being felt, again, by Native Americans. It is a narrative we as a nation seem hostage to repeat over and over, and now repeat again with the go-ahead for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

We’ve lost who we are. Saint Hildegard of Bingen, who Pope Benedict acclaimed as a Doctor of the Church, recognized veriditas, that moment when God heals through nature, as an inner energy that is the soul of everything, a voice calling to “Become who you are; become all that you are.”2 However, now humanity attaches to the love of things, not to the love of living organisms. When we lose a sense of our inner core of being, of the need to love, hopefully we remember the words of ecologist Thomas Berry who says the universe is “a communion of subjects more than a collection of objects.”3 Christianity would seem to help with restoring the connection between humanity and nature, but theological interpretations of Scripture advance dualistic thinking that impedes our relationship to nature.

What can we do? We can connect. We can resonate with the cry of the Earth. We can connect with the cry of the poor. We can connect to the cry of neighbors oppressed. We can connect to one another. We must escape this cultural habit swallowing our country that creates competition over collaboration; that creates lordship over stewardship and that lures us to forget God is always with us.

Last weekend, as many of you are aware, I was in New York. I was hoping to move my mom here to Nebraska. She was on a waiting list for over a year. My mom has been disconnected from reality, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia since I was young. She passed away peacefully Sunday morning, and all of her possessions fit in a little white plastic bag marked, “Personal Effects.” The last time she went outside was late June, for she was in psychiatric care. Imagine spending nearly six months inside, totally disconnected from the Earth. I am thankful she is finally free metaphorically from her illness. Metaphors speak to people in ways direct communication fails. If the rampant poverty in our world becomes a metaphor for our impoverished Earth, then possibly story is the best way to convey to people that nature reflects our soul, and our soul reflects nature. Theologian Leonard Boff calls for a “moment of seeing, of feeling and suffering the impact of human passion, both personal and social.”1

And that brings us to today’s Scripture reading, a narrative that clashes with the one preceding it in the Old Testament. The first story was about King David’s abuse of power, how he slept with a woman against her will and had her husband killed. Then in the Scripture read today the prophet Nathan appears to King David and tells him this story: “There were two men in the same city—one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him. One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.”

In this story, a rich man has power and has the freedom to take and consume. Scholars of the Old Testament say the main teaching in these clash of narratives speak to how the prophets helped the leaders to discern, and that falsehoods truly do matter, especially when false narratives justify injustice.

It took this metaphor told by the prophet Nathan for King David to realize his abusive actions. What story do we need to hear? What response is needed? Certainly, recycling, composting, avoiding fossil fuels, beef and products with palm oil, are all practical actions.

But until people learn to love one another, they will not learn to love the Earth.

Is the problem really this simple? I think yes. Social activism is at the core of Christianity, and liberation ecology is a theological path towards truly saving our souls. Latin America was the catalyst for liberation theology, and spending time in Peru helped me to fully comprehend a return to liberation theology must transpire in order to help our planet.

Our Earth communicates to us in the forms of natural disasters, but usually the poor (who ironically are the ones deeply connected to the land) are mainly affected. Sadly, those disassociated from Earth also experience fatal disconnection from relationships, starting with a decision to be oblivious to the suffering of others.

The central message of Christianity is to love one another. Social and ecological justice must become the new democracy in our nation. And that will require a massive paradigm shift politically, socially, economically and theologically. We must reconnect to who we are. We must escape this mental illness that imprisons us from experiencing Creation. We must understand Christ as a metaphor for the Big Bang, that moment when our universe was born. Connect to God. Connect to our Creation. Connect to one another. Our culture’s narrative clashes with our Christian narrative. Which narrative will you follow?

 

1 Boff, Leonard. Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, translated by Phillip Berryman
Orbis Books, 1997.

2 Rohr, Richard. “Nature as a Mirror of God.” Center for Action and Contemplation. Email
received 8 Nov. 2016.

3 Berry, Thomas. “The University: Its Response to the Ecological Crisis.” Harvard Divinity
School and the University Committee on Environment, 11 April 1996.