Friday, 1 July 2016


Narrative (story) is the packaging we use to share the past with others.  The box we use to hand 500 paperclips to someone who needs a few hundred paperclips.  We don't just hand them handfuls of paperclips, one handful after another. We use a box.

Narrative is a box you can use if you're trying to hand someone a decade or two of experiences.

We don't invite someone over and serve them a bowl of flour.  We make the flour into a loaf of bread. Or a cake.  And we choose what goes into it and what doesn't.  Some of us just wants lots of sugar in it.  Others like a bit of lemon or a bit of nutmeg or ginger or cinnamon (bitter-tasting things to go with the sweet).  You can make it with whatever you think "goes."

Narrative is a thing you make, and you decide the exact "mix" of experiences to include. Your narrative is going to "taste" a bit like how you tend to remember things.  Telling someone your narrative is a way for them to experience what things were like for you.

When I wrote "Pharisee" to put my past experiences (and my various current random encounters) with my birth culture into a narrative, I kept hearing people say they'd "forgot" about all of "that stuff."  Some found it deeply upsetting to revisit their own pasts.  It really made me wonder how people could somehow forget so many things. Forget their own childhoods. Forget their own experiences.

But every now and then, randomly reminded by something or other, I find I am thinking of someone or something I haven't thought of for a long time.  Something or someone that hasn't ever been part of my narrative in any of my books. And I realize it's not so much that we really forget things, as that we just haven't slotted certain events and people into the narrative we have formed about our pasts. So when we tell or call to mind that narrative, those people and things just aren't in it. There are "cut scenes."  Some stuff hit the cutting room floor.  Stuff we still have. Stuff that can be edited back in to provide a broader, more accurate telling of events.

So I don't really think it's mainly that I remember more things than my fellow Brethren; it just seems like I've taken the time to construct a bigger, broader narrative, which more interrelated things fit into, than most people have bothered to attempt.

I've had more time to think than a lot of people have. Having time to think has always been a big priority of mine. Having summers mostly "off" helps.  Not having kids will make it possible, too.

So I did. (Think.) Made the narrative of my recent book. Made it as big as I possibly could. Kept looking for more and more people and things that all had to fit into it. Tried to include people and events and ideas that didn't fit easily. Changed the shape and flow of it to include them.

Because everybody's got a narrative to try to make sense of their past. Some people's narratives are only one sentence long.  Mine was approaching 1000 pages by the time I pulled the plug on adding (even) more stuff.

I'm sure to some people, it looks like I made one of those crazy conspiracy/serial killer walls you see in TV shows, connecting a bunch of things that maybe aren't really connected outside of that crazy person's head.

But I believe the connections I made in my "Pharisee" narrative are valid. I believe my narrative goes a long way toward making a certain amount of sense of all the crazy, random stuff that went on. Still, this gives me insight into how people view projects like "Pharisee." It explains the look I see in their eyes when I talk to them.

I see that look still, nowadays, when I get to look at people's eyes when we interact. If they will give eye contact when we do.  Like maybe they haven't quite decided whether they're talking to an obsessive crazy person doing utterly inexplicable things no one should, or to someone who knows things they don't really want to think about much.

The former is more comforting for many to believe.  Because the latter might mean expanding and rebuilding your own narrative to include more people and things.  But if you just say "no" over and over, and shake your head, you can leave your narrative alone entirely.  Bad people stay bad.  Good people stay good.  Things are how you see them.  Simple. Over. 

I remember a few years back, one still "in" guy had heard that my quick explanation of the 1991 Ottawa/Nepean division was that traditionalists and modernizers were fighting over how Meeting was going to go.
(Over "King James only" and praying with "you and your" and using modern hymns, and over the traditional "one right place/divine ground of gathering" doctrine and so on.)

     He asked me, "Is that really what you think it was all about?!" 
     So my response was: "Tell me one other thing that it was also about..."
     He had no response whatsoever to give me at that point or afterward. No narrative to relate. He just wanted to object to mine.

But it showed me that the story I had made, the narrative to explain the 1991 division, was one quite foreign to his way of looking at it. Maybe to him the whole thing was an utterly inexplicable pool of chaos that can never be resolved. And my attempts to explain it are silly or insane.  I'm not sure, of course.

Or maybe his story is a simple one with "us," the good guys, valiantly fighting off and driving out "them."  The barbarian, Mongol hordes who had somehow infiltrated "us" and who were seeking to destroy our precious community. Because they hate our freedom? Our close relationship with Jesus? Our scriptural correctness?   You can make the narrative whatever you want.  But in the end, "we" always seem to be victorious. And we all went out to Meeting happily ever after?

I don't know if that's this guy's narrative. I assume he has one.  He didn't share his with me, though I'd just shared mine with the world.  He just wants to object to mine. To ridicule it.  To try to chide me out of it.

In a story like the one I've imagined for Mr. "Is that really what you think...?"  it is clear I just don't fit in that story.  Anywhere at all. I wasn't seeking to modernize anything in the 90s. I wasn't trying to destroy anything in there.  I didn't contribute to the turmoil or help cause the division.  I didn't leave when all the people left. I wasn't kicked out until much later. And I was kicked out.  I didn't leave.  I didn't do anything that hurt anyone or anything when I was in there. 

Not unless you count the fact that the man the next Ottawa division blew up around supposedly cried at my mock outreach pamphlet.  And I don't count that.  I think that dude's fine.  Just fine.

In similar fashion, the idea that people who seek out my narrative, dip into it, and find their own narrative to be missing a whole bunch of pieces and how they all connect?  The idea that they can then claim that this uncomfortable feeling, the one they feel once they've heard a bit of my narrative, as I name and label all of these pieces and how they connect is me "hurting" them?  I don't buy that either. If it's as simple as you say, your narrative should tear mine to shreds.  Mine should be revealed as crazy, misguided, and missing important things.  And I should be able to see myself in your narrative with a clear "You Are Here" arrow.

But I don't fit in a whole lot of people's narratives. Unless possibly as the crazy guy with the conspiracy wall.  Trying to make sense of the past, instead of leaving it alone and risking repeating it endlessly.  And that's their narrative, not mine. They can cast me any way they like.  They can even cast me as "The Most Bitter Wronged Brethren Brother Who Ever Claimed To Be Right About Something."  Whatever works.