Summary: Our lives are made up with stories. We are a people of the story. We love stories. We’re raised with stories and when something happens to us, we turn it into a story. This series is based on James Bryan Smith’s study, Apprentice of Jesus.
Transforming Our Narratives
Ben Hooper was born in Newport, TN in 1870 out of wedlock, to Sarah Wade. As a result, he had a tough childhood, being taunted by others. When he went into town, he could see people staring at him, making guesses as to who his father was. At school children said ugly things to him. In his early school years, his grandfather died, and his mother was forced to place Ben in an orphanage in Knoxville. At age 9, he was adopted by Dr. L H Hooper, and had to move back near his Newport home. At age 12, he recalls going to Church to hear the new Baptist preacher. He would go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the Benediction so fast he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. Just about the time he got to the door, he felt a big hand on my shoulder. He looked up and the preacher was looking right at him and Ben knew exactly what he was doing. He was going to guess who his father was. He trembled in fear. A moment later he said, “Well, boy, you’re a child of….” He paused and Ben knew what was coming. He knew his feelings were about to be hurt and he would never return to church again.” But as he looked down at Ben, studying his face, He began to smile a big smile of recognition. “Boy, you are a child of God. I see a striking resemblance!’ With that he slapped me across the rump and said, ‘Go and claim your inheritance.’ Ben said he left a different person. It was the beginning of his life. Years later Ben Hooper would write about that event saying, “That was the most important single sentence ever said to me.” Ben Hoover gave his life to Christ and became a faithful member of that small Baptist Church in the hills of Tennessee. In 1911, He became a lawyer and later was elected as the first Republican Governor of Tennessee.
That event was not only a watershed event for Ben’s life but it became his story out of which he lived the rest of his life. A fatherless child who had been ridiculed and shamed by the other children in his town, heard of a loving Father, Almighty God, who claimed him as his own. That became his life story.
Our lives are made up with stories. We are a people of the story. We love stories. We’re raised with stories and when something happens to us, we turn it into a story. How often is it that you get together with an old friend and say, “Have I got a story for you!” But stories are more than just that. They are what James Bryan Smith calls narratives. Our lives are based on narratives. Narratives help explain our world, how we are to live and what our lives are about. In fact, they help us to make sense of everything in our lives, help us to navigate our world, understand what is right and what is wrong and provide meaning. They guide and direct our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, words and actions, sometimes without us even knowing.
There are all kinds of narratives. There are family narratives, stories we learn from our immediate families. Through them, our parents and grandparents impart their worldview, their ethical system and their values. They are often stories which are filled with life defining moments in a person’s or family’s life. They help shape who we are, why we are here and what we can contribute. Our family narratives become our narratives, for good and for ill. They help guide and define who we are as a person.
There are cultural narratives which arise from growing up in a particular region of the world. From our culture, we learn our values, what is important, who is successful and how to look at the world. Missouri, where I grew up, is called the “Show me” state because we value hard work and believe the proof is always in the pudding. I’ve lived in New Orleans for almost 30 years and here our values and way of life are radically different: it’s about a joie de vivre, lassiz les bonne temps roulez, lagniappe, your family and dem and of course, “Who Dat!” Cultural narratives define how we approach life and interact with the world around us.
Then there are religious narratives. These are the stories and lessons we hear from our parents as they teach us the faith and in Sunday School, the messages we hear from the pulpit, and the things we learn from religious books. They help us to understand who God is, what he wants of us and how we ought to live. Finally, there are the Jesus narratives. These are the images Jesus reveals and the stories Jesus tells to reveal the character of God.