Friday, May 11, 2012

Facts are Cheap!

In this era of social media, when information is at the tip of our fingers, when all we have to do is "google it" or look it up on Wikipedia, facts are cheap.  

In our conversation at the Academy of Parish Clergy Meeting in Dayton this past week, our speaker, Carol Howard Merritt, made this point with great clarity.  Facts are rather useless -- trivia that we can access whenever we desire.  But if facts are cheap, narrative is not.  That is, the facts are mere trivia until woven into a story that makes sense of them.  

The other day I posted a piece that questioned narrative preaching, in part because much of the narrative preaching I've experienced fails to weave a story that makes sense.  It's just a story for the sake of the story to fill fifteen minutes.  Being that I'm a historian that values "facts" to some degree, I've been left wanting, but I do appreciate and endorse Carol's point.  Indeed, I know that when teaching history, if there is only a recitation of names and dates, eyes shut and minds close, but when placed into a compelling narrative these names and dates come to life.

What is desired, then,  by so many, is a story that has context and emotional depth, stories that will resonate with the lives of people, especially younger adults.  

One of the points that Carol made was that young adults are changing jobs every 2.7 years.  They are moving here and there, not just for the adventure, but to try to make a life.  There is loneliness in this mobility, and there is a desire for rootedness.  So how do we weave stories that makes sense of this reality, that provides more than facts, but provides roots?  

It is clear from surveys and studies that younger generations, while distrusting institutional forms of religion, are seeking community.  That community is sometimes, perhaps often, provided by social media.  In our movement across the nation, we keep in touch, and reconnect through Facebook and Twitter.  We share our stories, sometimes even rather intimate moments, because we're seeking community.  

Facts are important, but facts alone is mere trivia.  Facts must be interpreted, and that means setting them into a story that is compelling.  So, how do we tell our story of faith in a compelling and faithful manner?   How does the biblical narrative enter into this conversation?  And how does this lead to creating community?    

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