Let me briefly explain the inspiration of these thoughts. I am a student in a relatively unique program called Torrey that essentially covers my undergraduate general education units at Biola University. These units are covered somewhat unconventionally (or conventionally if you go back a few centuries) and entail reading many “great works” and then having a three hour discussion of the text (one, two or, some semesters, the dreaded three times a week). One of the challenges within Torrey is how to make sure students are healthily integrating with the rest of the Biola community. There have been numerous instances where Torrey students find themselves in isolated cliques and set apart (by themselves, or by other students). For the reader who does not have a vested interest in this program, please, continue reading because I believe what is at the heart of this issue is a broader picture that deeply affects the world and our very identity.
If you have followed this blog for any length of time I hope that my admiration for two things have come out in these posts: namely, the influence of words and the influence of stories. Rhetoric and speeches capture our imaginations – any American is familiar with “four score and seven years ago” as coming from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Stories also have incredibly formative roles in our lives (think Aesop’s Fables for a great example of someone who harnessed the power of stories). Words and stories, especially when put together, hold an incredible amount of sway over us that we are rarely even aware of. It’s why politicians, particularly Presidents coin phrases like the New Deal, Great Society, etc. It’s an attempt to both use powerful word recognition and invite the people into entering a new chapter in the “story of the United States.” Indeed, so powerful can these things be that I would venture so far as to say that many who use them are unaware of their power.
But what is the connection between words, stories and the isolated Torrey student? After thinking about this issue I believe that the reason Torrey students have trouble integrating into the larger Biola community is because of a conflict of meta-narrative that results from a difference of words. In other words, they [both Torrey and non-Torrey students] see the other as holding to a different framing story when in reality this is simply the result of the use of different rhetoric. My belief is that the Torrey student tends towards placing him or herself in the context of the story of the salvation of the West. The Biola student, on the other hand, places him or herself in the context of the story of believers pursuing Jesus. The terrible irony is that both stories advocate exactly the same things; it is the result of the rhetoric that seems to present the stories as different. In this case, no one is to blame, no Torrey professors, nor any Biola professors for failing to communicate; rather it is the responsibility of the students to recognize this fundamental similarity and unite with those with whom they have that commonality.
Meta-narratives have brought conflict for centuries. From the persecution of the early church to the threat of modern-day terrorism, these conflicts result from differences in the framing story that people ascribe to. However so often, within the Church (and in the above example, within Biola) there have been unnecessary splits and conflict not because of differences but because of perceived differences. Words are powerful, but they are also not the end – the end lies in the story and where it points, which for the Christian is to Jesus Christ. It is only by his power that we can hope to transcend words and use them to demonstrate his truth in keeping with his story. The above issue points to this need concerning an issue that I personally have faced – Christ alone, as the author of the Christian story, can unite us regardless of what words we choose.
Grace and peace,