One of the things I find awesome about being human is we are storied creatures. We’re constantly making sense of this experience, this day, this relationship, this life, and so on. There’s an ongoing story in our heads about our lives, the lives of people we love, the nature of reality as a whole, and so on. This leads me to wonder: What’s your and my metanarrative? Is it a good one? And whom are we serving?
Allow me to unpack those a bit. “Metanarrative” is the Big Story, it’s whatever plotline we think defines, guides, and/or creates life, the universe, and everything (aka reality). And quite honestly it seems to me the more positive, hopeful, blissful, generous, life giving, and loving our metanarrative is, the more our experiences, characters, and actions come to reflect those qualities. Conversely, a negative, pessimistic, fearful, stingy, and random storyline forms people in those images. Along those lines, I find a famous Bob Dylan song to be increasingly True (I think big, life Truths deserve a capital “T”). In “Gotta Serve Somebody” he sings:
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pears.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
As the song continues, Dylan sings about all manners of people, letting us know whether we’re rich, poor, affluent, destitute, or anywhere in between we’re serving somebody. It occurs to me a primary “person” we all serve is the metanarrative we trust. I deliberately write “trust” there because I believe it’s the best word for “faith”. My point being faith is a leap, it is trusting something/someone we don’t (and perhaps can’t) know will for sure follow through, or is true. I also use that word because it has religious, aka God, connotations. We say people who believe in a Higher Power have “faith”.
In the religious, speaking of God sense of the word, I have a hunch we all have a faith. “Faith”, here, is simply Who and/or What we believe defines, guides, shapes, and creates reality, or life, the universe, and everything. Being storied creatures, we each have a notion about ultimate reality, and we become a character in that plot. A character who is in many ways shaped, driven, and/or controlled by said storyline, whether we realize it or not.
Before bringing in Katy Perry and Black Friday, since I’m on the topic, allow me to hit you with something I’m finding more and more true: The more the sensible and coherent the story we tell about ourselves, our interactions with others, the actions of others, news, history, science, God, and the nature of ultimate reality is, the more whole, joyful, and peaceful we become. For instance, I used to believe people were inherently bad, and that we’re all supposed to be kind and caring. These two don’t fit together very well and created discord both within me and in how I treated others.
We’re always telling a story in our heads about others, the world, and ourselves, so let’s make it a good one! These days I trust Love is the grain of the universe, it’s the flow of reality, and have found living into this brings harmony and bliss, while going against the grain of loving care for people and creation leads only to suffering.
This all leads me to some thoughts on Katy Perry’s song “Chained to the Rhythm” and Black Friday. When I first heard the song the following thought struck me: This is one of the best Gospel songs ever. I say that because I think the Christ was/is our Savior, which naturally means we were saved from something/someone.
A prime thing I see Jesus freeing us from today is consumerism, capitalism, competition, division, and the messages of our culture. In short, all these forces combine to tell us: To be worthy you need to achieve more than others and make a bunch of money, in order to belong you must buy “cool” stuff and support the “right” party or religion or ______, and to be loved you must wear the right clothes and look young/fit.
Think about it, aren’t the underlying messages of most advertisements and the foundation of our economy essentially: As you are, you are NOT enough. To belong and be loved, you must do more, be more, and own more. Capitalism thrives on a scarcity mentality, a mindset of lacking. We’re constantly wooed by the latest product, newest fad, and current craze.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and benefit from our culture, and am deeply appreciative of being an American. There are many, many great aspects of our society, and capitalism and consumerism have both pluses and minuses. That said, in “Unchained Rhythm” I hear a prophetic warning from Katy telling us we’re unknowingly enslaved to the masters of greed, competition, division, oppression, violence, and so on, the dark sides of capitalism and consumerism. (You can listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um7pMggPnug) In the song she sings:
Are we crazy?
Living our lives through a lens
Trapped in our white-picket fence
So comfortable, we live in bubble, a bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, the trouble
Aren’t you lonely
Up there in utopia
Where nothing will ever be enough?
Turn it up, it’s your favorite song
Dance, dance, dance to the distortion
Turn it up, keep it on repeat
Stumbling around like a wasted zombie
Yeah, we THINK we’re free
Drink, this one is on me
We’re all chained to the rhythm
To the rhythm to the rhythm
I don’t know about you, but it’s SO EASY to buy into the lie. I fall prey to the temptation of believing the new iPhone, getting some sweet new clothes at a fraction of their regular cost, buying 10 new Blu-Ray movies at a GREAT price, having more students in the yoga classes I teach, getting a lot of reads on this blog, purchasing a new car, going on a dream vacation, buying our dream home, and so on will bring bliss, peace, true success in life, or love … only, they DON’T!
I think at a minimum, the culture of America, driven by capitalism, consumerism, and competition, turns a blind eye to and allows racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and so on … and quite possibly feeds these evils. We need look no further than the news to see how these all exist and thrive in the U.S. The thing is, as Katy sings: It’s SUPER easy for us to be too busy spending, acquiring, achieving, and so on to truly notice and do something about the wrongs in our midst. We numb ourselves on our drug of choice, consumerism.
At the root of all this, I think is the lie of the metanarrative that fuels Black Friday: YOU are not worthy as you are, you do NOT belong with what you have, and you won’t be loved with what you’ve DONE. Capitalism, consumerism, and the competitive nature of our society NEED us to believe we lack, so that we’ll buy more and more and push ourselves harder and harder. It’s SUPER easy for me to neglect or miss the good, and forget to do the hard work of love, when we’re so busy either chasing “success” in our uber competitive culture, or numbing out on shopping, Netflix, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.
Are you getting the sense that consumerism/capitalism/competition makes a pretty terrible master? I am!
I believe this is where the Gospel comes in. Jesus tells a different metanarrative about the nature of all things, you, and I. As it pertains to this blog’s topic, the story of the Christ declares YOU are worthy, belong, and are loved … PERIOD … NO DOING REQUIRED, you simply are and always will be. You, my friend, in this plotline are a winner at life just by showing up!!!
In short, to put what I’m saying rather pointedly: The Big Story of our culture sucks! It fosters insecurity, fear, division, and less care and compassion for others than we’re capable of. Conversely, though, Jesus’ Big Story is Life itself. It declares you and I worthy, belonging, and loved period, which frees us from insecurity, scarcity, and fear to fully and richly love and be loved.
Does this mean we should sit Black Friday and/or the Christmas shopping frenzy out? Maybe. Maybe not. I think the key here is being mindful and conscious about what we do and how it impacts both others and ourselves. So, in my mind we have the freedom to choose to participate in Black Friday, for instance, and enjoy it all the more, because we can remember our possessions, money, and success doesn’t define us.
More importantly, I’d offer you and I a poignant question: Does the metanarrative, the Big Story we trust about life, the universe, and everything lead to more bliss, peace, wholeness, and love? Or does it suck life from us and/or others? Are you and I telling a good story in our heads? Does it lead to more thriving and flourishing for everyone? How can we make it a better one? Do we serve the master of consumerism/capitalism, or Jesus, or ______? Is it a good, loving, and life-giving master?
I’d like to wrap this up with a few related practical thoughts. Have you ever heard of Sabbath? It’s an ancient practice from Judaism, wherein God invites us to take one day a week completely off to celebrate, rest, play, meditate, sing, dance, eat, drink, enjoy life, and draw closer to and connect more with both people and our Creator. In short, Sabbath is a day when we remind ourselves we are and celebrate being worthy, belonging, and loved as we are, by mindfully doing NO WORK.
Have you ever tried practicing Sabbath? You see, we’re made to live in a work, rest, and play sort of rhythm, in big and small ways. To put it differently, to be fully alive we need to regularly practice just being by pausing all our doing. While many find it incredibly life-giving to do this once a week for a whole day (and I highly recommend it), I think it’s SUPER helpful to also make a habit of taking regular little breaks from DOING everyday, and just BE … without the TV on, without looking at the computer, without gazing into a smartphone, or any of our other usual distractions/numbing devices. It’s also helpful to take a longer “Sabbath”, i.e. a weekend or week, once or twice or more a year.
Over the years people have named Sabbath as resistance, which rings true to me. Sabbath is resistance to our culture of competition, possession, fear, and lack. It’s a powerful reminder of your, my, and all our human sisters and brothers inherent worth and dignity.
Speaking of resistance, have you noticed how parallel with Black Friday and Cyber Monday there’s now Giving Tuesday? It occurs to me another way we can move into a more life giving metanarrative is by choosing to give to charities we support on Giving Tuesday. You and I can speak Truth to the lies of consumerism and capitalism by using some of the money we’d ordinarily use for possessions on people, thereby giving life instead of taking it.
I could go on 🙂 but I think that’s good for now. What do you think? May your master be sweet, your Big Story be Love, and the freeing, loving, and life giving Big Story gifted us by Jesus the Christ bless you greatly.
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Grace and peace,