I’m a science guy and I loved nonfiction books growing up. I was so opposed to anything related to writing, literature, or narrative that in order to satisfy my second writing requirement in my undergraduate studies, I chose a chemistry lab course that required more than twenty pages of lab reports. So, it is ironic that I am now a preacher, teacher, and student of the greatest book ever written.
You see, as much as I’ve tried to escape it, I have found that the world is best described not as a lab report of correlated facts, but as a narrative. And on a personal level, I’ve found that humans are story-forming creatures, crafting their personal stories to make sense of their lives.
The Movie Trailer in Your Head
The way I illustrate it is that each of us is directing, constantly and cognitively, the movie trailer of our lives. The low-level hum in our brains is a three- to four-minute video on endless repeat, playing our highlights and hopes, with that low, gravelly voice that opens every movie trailer narrating the story and creating suspense. Each day of our lives presents us with new footage to potentially include.
But critically, each of our life trailers is only roughly based on reality. We don’t—at least, the non-psychopathic among us don’t—consciously try to depart from reality in our narratives. But we are finite creatures who in our trailers filter finite information and misinformation according to our own particular perspective. James Davidson Hunter charts this type of story crafting in his book To Change the World. He observes that warring factions within a particular culture tend to develop narratives of offense about one another, based on available information, for the purpose of stoking vitriol against one another. It turns out, on a sociological level, that your self-identified cause and your perceived enemies radically affect the way you tell the story of your life.
Breaking News and Breaking Stories
New information can alter your story as well. Imagine that you discover, in the attic of your childhood home, adoption papers with your name on them. That would be no small or insignificant discovery. That new information would change how you view your childhood, your current identity, and possibly your future. But now, imagine that you’re in the kitchen of a good friend after a cookout. You’re raving about the hamburgers only to look down in the trash can and spot the empty packaging for ground turkey, not, as you suspected, ground beef. That new information might change your assessment of the dinner (and maybe the cook), but it won’t make any significant alterations to how you tell your life story. The principle at work here is that new information has the potential to change our story—how we understand our life and the world around us—based on the importance of that information. Given this truth, we now have a grid through which to consider the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its story-changing power.