Friday, December 28, 2012

On Harbingers, Harbors, and Hermeneutics

Recently I was curious about the word, harbinger. So I dug a bit into the etymology of the word. Interesting – it hails from an old French word herbergier which had the idea of “providing lodging for.” Further back it has roots in an old Saxon word, heriberga, which means “shelter for an army,” and even further back its origin is in a Germanic base meaning “fortified place.” The word is related to harbor, and was used to denote a person who went ahead to find lodging and a safe place for an army or a nobleman. This harbinger person was not only the finder of a safe place of lodging for his “employer,” but also a kind of herald as to the entourage that was coming.
That all got me to thinking – and yes (having studied enough Hebrew and Greek to be dangerous) I’m aware of the hazards of just going with the etymology of a word. But the truth is we all interpret things (books, texts, movies, cartoons, language, experiences, relationships, events, indeed all things) from our own “place of lodging, safe shelter, harbor, fortified place.” That place is the harbinger of how we do hermeneutics. It’s the “world” we live in ­– our cultural, overarching story.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Knowing and Story

This blog tends to center on material related to knowing and story. The idea being these two things walk hand-in-hand – knowing and story. Can't have one without the other. Some clarification concerning the "knowing"part might be in order. By knowing I do not refer to the mere accumulation of facts. Christopher Flanders, in his doctoral dissertation on shame and honor in the Thai  culture, writes "Proper theological formulation then is not just for increasing understanding and knowledge but also about forging healthier modes of relationalilty." Here in the West we tend to get goose bumps when we learn stuff. Knowledge tends to be king. We take notes, ostensibly so that we can learn something, or perhaps learn better (or sometimes, to learn later). The prize for taking a test is to get enough right answers so as to prove we have mastered the knowledge (regurgitation) element of "education." The child (or adult) who gets the "right answer" in Sunday School gets more stars by his/her name. Valedictorians are smarter because they supposedly know more than the salutatorian. But knowledge is not the end. It is not king. And it should not be the ultimate goal of education – or of life. Interesting that the ancient Hebrew word we translate as "know" was much more about accruing relationship than accumulating facts.

Friday, December 21, 2012

How the Story Ends

Action is driven by purpose; people do things for a reason. Purpose is driven by destiny; the reason for human actions is tied to the perception of how something or someone has determined the story ends. Destiny is driven by metanarrative; how the story ends is the final act of the overarching, controlling, communal story in which people live. Metanarrative, just as it generates the cosmological aspect of story, also fashions the eschatological story portion. Metanarrative (being story) has a beginning, middle, and an end as per Aristotle. How a story ends (the inherent, perceived destiny) has a profound influence on the understood purpose for living within that metanarrative. That purpose then motivates the actions of the human players within the metanarrative. Hence, the story we truly and (often) tacitly live in is paramount. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Perception of Morality and Determination of Meaning

Morality speaks of oughtness – how things ought to be, how life ought to be lived, how self ought to act, how others ought to act toward self, what is right behavior, what is wrong behavior, how is one to behave differently in different contexts, etc. It follows logically that one’s perception of morality affects how one determines meaning. To understand how perception of morality affects meaning one can examine the various dimensions of a particular culture and then proceed to analyze how that dimension determines in what way a person from that culture thinks, behaves in relationship with others, and views reality. For example, consider just one of the cultural dimensions – the dimension of guilt/righteousness versus shame/honor. Parenthetically, the point of this dimension (as well as the others) is not to communicate a stark contrast in which there is unequivocally no mixing of the two concepts, but rather to posit the general orientation cultures have toward one or the other model. Given that caveat, if one has grown up in a particular shame/honor oriented culture and has absorbed the accompanying metanarrative and worldview assumptions, life (and all meaning within that life) will be quite different for that individual than for someone immersed in a guilt/righteousness oriented culture. Flanders has written an entire book (actually a published copy of his dissertation) demonstrating and discussing the power and influence of “face” (shame) on a culture. Flanders notes how assumptions of meaning in the West (guilt/righteousness oriented) differ from Thai culture (shame/honor oriented). “The distinguishing mark of a shame culture is a dependence upon what others think. Conversely, it is not the perception of others that drives guilt culture but rather a person’s own internal moral compass, the individual conscience.”[1] He further notes that
The command associated with guilt would be something like, “Stop. What you have done is wrong and violates the standard or rule.” In contrast the command interpreted from the perspective of shame would be, “Stop. What you have done is wrong. You are no good.” As such, the shame command is more severe because it is more profoundly a statement about the self, not simply an action abstracted and isolated from the self.[2]
            This is only one example of how a single cultural dimension (perhaps better termed, “value dimension”) demonstrates that perception of morality (what is the proper code of conduct) affects meaning for adherents of a culture.

[1] Christopher L. Flanders, About Face (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2011), 58.
[2] Ibid., 62. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Story We are Living In

The story we are living out is the story we are living in. And the story we are living in is the story we are living out.

Or, said another way, (in David Naugle's new book, Philosophy: A Student's Guide), "Alasdair MacIntyre has taught us to recognize the narrative sources of the moral traditions to which we adhere, especially if we wish to establish coherent, unified lives. Our character and actions are essentially an enacted dramatic narrative. We know neither what to be or what to do unless we can answer the prior question, 'Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?' Stories are of ultimate moral significance."(Philosophy, 77).

How true. If one lives in the story of rational humanism, morality will look one way. If one lives in the story of communistic fatalism, issues of morality will look another way. Or if one lives partly in the story of biblical theism and partly in some other story, then right and wrong take on a different hue. The story is really important. As is where we live.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Controlling Stories – Are Just That

Cultures have controlling stories -- stories that powerfully impact how a people think, and believe, and act. These stories are deeply embedded (and ingrained) in the culture. One way to spot a potential "controlling story" is to keep an eye out for words or phrases that when they are used they seem to invoke something much larger than the mere meaning of the words themselves. They (upon further investigation) invoke a whole story that has impacted and continues to impact the culture. Think of Jewish people - and the word "Temple," or "Holy land," or "Torah." Or take the Metis people of Canada - and the word (person) "Louis Riel." Take the folks of the United States - and the word, "tea party." Take the people of southeast Montana - and the word "Custer." Take the people of Russia - and the word, "gulag." You get the point. Some words only capture little stories - like the word, "malarky." But other words capture stories that are much larger and longer lasting. (Mind you, I am not predicting how large or long lasting the "story" behind "malarky" may be or how much impact it may have.) 

The point is that these culture-controlling stories are so embedded that it only takes a symbol, a word, an allusion - and everyone immediately "gets it;" that is, they understand the conversation at a deeper level than any outsider. Because they are connected via story.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Self-perception & Self-deception

Because of the initial sin of Adam and Eve (and the ensuing sin nature of all mankind) our perception of reality is tainted heavily because of our inherent lens of self. Without the sovereign help of the Creator, our metanarrative-derived identity markers (how we see ourselves in terms of gender, physique, ethnicity, religion, age, status, occupation, etc.) are off-kilter. And this smoggy self perception regarding our identity and individuality is one of the primary variables in life that colors everything we see and hear. Everything. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Every Story has a Storyteller

Every story has a storyteller; every metanarrative has a meta-author (someone or something) that holds the metaphorical megaphone through which they propagate the authoritative and percieved-as-ultimate communal story of reality according to their perception and agenda. So...who (or what) is narrating the world/story in which you live? The answer to this question is revealing and really important - especially if one answers commensurate with one's (real) behavior as opposed to one's (ideal) creed.