Tuesday, February 25, 2014

GPS - Governing, Pivotal Story-System


911. Nine-one-one (or nine-eleven). These digits and phrases have become a significant symbol in American. 911 is no longer primarily a symbol of how to elicit help when your cat is up a tree or your house is on fire. Today, it brings a whole different story to mind. Or, better yet, it brings a system of stories to mind. It brings a host of images to the collective national mind – images of two airplanes, one after the other, crashing into two of America’s tallest buildings. It brings images of a robust, young man in another airplane headed for Washington, DC quietly saying, “Let’s roll.” It brings images of smoke billowing out of once-thought invincible skyscrapers. It brings images of a dirty-faced fireman carrying a limp child through a surreal world of dust and ashes. It brings images of a nation forced into a collective, bowed-head moment of utter disbelief. That story (and all the related stories that make that story) may very well have become one of present-tense America’s GPS.

GPS – “Governing, pivotal story-system.GPS is a story-system because it is a collection of theme-related smaller stories that combine to make a single, larger narrative. It is what Halverson, Goodall, and Corman refer to as a master narrative. They (helpfully) draw attention to a particular distinction of narrative – narrative (they write) is a system of stories. More in-depth, they define a narrative as “a coherent system of interrelated and sequentially organized stories that share a common rhetorical desire to resolve conflict…”[1] They then proceed to define a master narrative as a transhistorical narrative that is deeply embedded in a particular culture. Deeply embedded – think of the following as possibilities: the Obamacare narrative (for Americans), the tearing-down-of-the-wall narrative (for Germans), or the Tutsi-Hutu genocide (for Rwandans). All these story-systems are narratives that have become (or are becoming) embedded in a society because of their historical and emotional impact. A GPS is a narrative (story-system) that is pivotal. Why? Because it is of crucial importance in relation to the development of something. A GPS is never neutral, inactive, or benign. Each one is powerful and active. Each is of crucial importance in the development of a society’s core assumptions about reality. A GPS is a narrative that is governing. Why? Because it controls the very thoughts and actions of an individual or a society. Since it is pivotal in the formation of presuppositional core assumptions about all reality, it literally sits in the driver’s seat of how people think and behave.

A GPS device is designed to help pinpoint location. Through triangulation it locates where one is on planet earth. Likewise, our "GPS" is similar. If one discovers a society’s grouping of GPS’s (since there is more than one that makes up the society’s metanarrative), that person is a long way down the trail of pinpointing that society’s core assumptions concerning reality.

[1] [1] Halverson et al, Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 14, 15.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Novel Approach

As you are no doubt aware, the title for this blog site is "Knowing: A Novel Approach." That is more than a cute, double-meaning title. That title is not primarily for marketing, branding, or tickling the ear. It simply represents a profound truth regarding how we (as humans) basically know stuff.

A friend of mine reminded me this afternoon of some words of Paul G. Hiebert. Dr. Hiebert was a remarkable man. He was distinguished professor of mission and anthropology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He also had pastored a church. Plus he had been a missionary to India. His writings are a tremendous gift to those of us still living this side of the Jordan. But more than all that, he was a humble man who believed in and lived in The Story.

On page sixty-six of Dr. Hiebert's book, Transforming Worldviews, he writes, "Narrative knowing is different from critical, analytical knowledge. Rational analysis is based on hard, objective evidence and logical, discursive analysis and creates abstractions from concrete reality. Stories, on the other hand, are based on both imaginative and rational analysis and deal with complexities of human experience that cannot be probed by the rational mind alone; they include contradictions, compromise, conflict, and crisis. They affirm that narrative knowing is real knowledge involving real truth and falsehood. Rational analysis focuses on cognitive knowing, but rationality unchecked by virtue and beauty leads to ugliness and evil. Narratives combine rationality and imagination and the cognitive, affective, and evaluative dimensions of life in a single whole." [Pause for this to sink in.] "...rationality unchecked by virtue and beauty leads to ugliness and evil." Thank you Dr. Hiebert. We might paraphrase and expand that by saying that truth (naked truth) devoid of the beauty of a truly loving relationship is not a pleasant thing. Jesus said, "I am the Truth." But he incarnated the truth that he was/is in love and in life. He demonstrated it in non-propositional embodiment.

Knowing. It really is a novel approach.