Our lives are not just made up of stories; they are also made by stories. This might be the most important reminder of this month. Indeed, who of us hasn’t felt controlled by a story? Stuck in a story? Hopeless about the way our story will end up? Simply put, stories write us as much as we write them.
For instance, who can’t relate to the friend that tells us that her family “clings to the story about how I’m the clumsy one.” We’ve never seen our friend trip, not once. Or drop a thing, ever. And yet, somehow, when she goes to her parents’ home or back to a family reunion, she spills coffee on at least one outfit, stubs at least one toe and stumbles down at least one step. There it is: the power of story!
Or think about our current struggles with economic or racial justice. The incredible income gap is described as “natural” or “the result of complex global dynamics over which we have little control.” Similarly, the story of race in our country is told with an “entrenched” story arc. Talk about a debilitating way of telling the story.
So let’s tell a new story! This is the message of our faith: We have a choice. Our stories are not predetermined. Remember that old theological debate our UU fore-fathers and mothers gave their lives for? Some said that God had predestined not just the big story of humanity, but our individual stories too. Some of us were slotted for heaven and others for hell. And God had written the list in ink. Nothing any of us could do about it.
“Well,” said our spiritual ancestors, “that’s a bit harsh, don’t you think!” Forget this extreme fate-driven story, they said. Freedom has a much bigger role than we’re giving it credit for. God is not so much the author of the story as she is the magical muse that needles and nags us to put our own stamp on the narratives before us. In other words, we come from a long-line of spiritual relatives who agreed with Shakespeare that “All the world’s a stage,” but then went on to clarify that it’s an improv show to which we’ve all been invited.
So fate and freedom? This month is much more about the tension between these two than one might have thought, leaving us with questions like: Are you an actor conforming to the scripts handed to you? Or have you found your own way of becoming a director, a screenwriter, an author? How are you struggling right now to regain control of the storyline of your life? How are you and your friends working to regain control of the storyline of our community? Our country?
Or maybe control is not your work. Maybe your spiritual work is about finding a new storyline. Maybe retirement, divorce, illness or the empty-nest has closed the book on one story and is inviting you to leap into a whole new narrative. Does that leave you excited about what’s to come? Scared? A bit of both?
Whatever it is. Wherever you are at. Don’t give the storyline away. That’s the message of our faith. And hopefully the gift of this month.