I am trying to join some dots between different strands of thinking and reading I have been doing this year. One of the joys of live tweeting from events is that you get drawn into a variety of subplots as you start interacting with other tweeters. I got to read Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years as a result of this. The subtitle of the book is How I learned to live a better story. I started reading it as I was exploring a part of my story. I revisited Sussex University where I was an undergraduate as part of a trip to Brighton. I sat in the Student Union bar which had barely changed, drinking the same beer as back in the day, writing reflections remembering who Sally was back then and who she is now. Overall I am happy with the story I am living. There are sadnesses and life is not without complications at times, but ultimately choosing to follow Jesus as enabled me to live a better story. However, in middle age I am also aware that choices I make now may have profound implications on what my story may look like in later years.
Alongside this I am writing a piece of autoethnography (or autobiography) for my thesis on shame in the church. I need to explain why I am drawn to research shame and why it is important for me to explore how to minister in non-shaming ways. I wrote this piece before I began to read the stories of people who had responded to my anonymous questionnaires. I needed to explore my own vulnerabilities if I were to ask others to share theirs. I became very aware that my story had been shaped by some significant incidents and that my values had often been formed by childhood experiences but until I consciously started reflecting I wasn’t fully aware of what, how and why.
I then started reading an article by a friend on narratives and reflection and began to consider her contention that
What we have instead of truth, [in the context of reflection] therefore is plot, and plot is available for retelling. We can modify, develop and re-narrate the plot of a story. Looking back at stories of the past can offer us ways to re-interpret them, and so invite alternative ways of going on in relation. Stories of the past are important contextual narratives in making current actions justifiable.
This resonates for me with Miller’s telling a better story and I am aware of a desire to narrate stories in ways which are life-giving and which enable others to live life-giving stories.
The adorable nephew (aged 10) stayed with us this week. As he said to me pizza and pancakes is now a tradition, it is part of the story of a sleepover with Auntie Sally and Uncle Paul. We have a jointly constructed story which can get retold according to audience and intention and the story varies depending on whose voice is being prioritised. I may talk in terms of autonomy and choice, he may be thinking soft Auntie Sally for letting me have cake for breakfast (one of my childhood loves). I am still not clear how all these insights and thoughts will impact my ministry but I am more conscious of the importance of understanding how what I say may be heard and how important it is for me to understand the stories I live and work within.
References (the academic in me makes me do this):
Miller, D. (2009) A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Nashville: Nelson.
Ramsey, C. M. (2005) Narrative: from learning in reflection to learning in performance, Management Learning, vol 36(2): 219-236.