Saturday, September 15, 2012

In this election, the debates are about the individual and community, the issue is rather the “narrative”

 Michael Sandel’s work on Justice is richly rewarding  I am going to suggest it to our Friday Morning Book Group. His exposition on the themes of Choice versus Community, with the contrast of individual rights and fairness, helped illuminate our recent political conventions for me. I was especially struck, however, by his thoughts on the significance of the person’s sense of narrative – not “tradition,” but internalized story line. Our interpretation of reality is not only based on our experience of events, but also greatly colored by the tales we have incorporated.  

It no longer makes any difference to me that I am a “Texan.” Yet that mythology surrounding the “ Old West” molded my sense of self, continues to do so. Puzzling. I got to thinking about my wife’s swearing in ceremony as an American citizen. It altered a legal status, but much more. She was formally accepting the narrative of being “American,” embracing its story , enlarging who she is. 

This line of thought clarified the speeches of the presidential candidates’ wives at the convention. It actually matters little (although it does, of course) that each man is a good husband, father, religious, a nice guy. “Nice” actually was the descriptive word. Their speeches were a part of these two women’s personal experiences but had little to do with the issue bothering many of us: what is the candidate’s personal narrative? For Romney, it is the incorporation, right into his very bone marrow, of what it means to be Mormon, Joseph Smith, the trek to Utah and all. It suddenly made sense why so many persons are peculiarly concerned with where Obama was born. It isn’t a question of place of birth, but an issue of “What is his narrative?” Obama’s first book struggled with this. The choice to become both a community worker and a professor of Constitutional Law suddenly fell into place. So did their choice of wives: it helps illuminate their narratives.

The idea of narrative makes sense. It helps with an understanding of the ancient creeds some church members find difficult to voice in a worship service. They are not an intellectual acceptance of by-gone assertions countering evolving scientific world views. Joining in reciting one of those creeds is rather an affirmation that we stand within that grand narrative of Abraham, the Second Isaiah, the preaching of the Carpenter from Galilee, of Peter and St. Francis (and acknowledging the Judases, too).  To own the biblical narrative as one’s own, is not to become a literalist or to be some how “converted.” It is to deliberately falling into step with the four thousand years parade now evolving into new ethical understandings of the depths and reaches of slavery, the role of women, and – now - the protection of children.

Who do you know who might find this interesting?

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