New ideas are a rarity in this world. Surely there have been remarkable people who have accomplished remarkable things in life. But none of those new ideas were purely singular acts. Any new idea is really just a new ordering of an old information. We take the flotsam and jetsam of the intersecting narratives of our lives and we form a new narrative that accommodates this new reality. If writers were to really cite their source information they would have to recall each and every conversation and sensory experience they have ever taken in. The same is true for scientist and others who are in the habit of producing product or theories. We are not autonomous.
Our actions and narratives seem to have a perpetual motion to them. The dominant narrative picks up momentum and it is challenging for us to hear any other perspective. We are so used to being told the same stories that we have believed about what it means to be human, american, a consumer that alternative narratives are a hard sell. But what happens when the stories that we believe about ourselves to be true are not the best versions of the narratives that we could be sharing?
Dominant culture tells us that there is a way to be, look, and act. $uccess isn’t a team sport. Individuals succeed often at the cost or detriment of others. But that is okay because everyone has the same opportunity to pull themselves up by their own boot straps. If someone cant do that, it probably isn’t due to bad luck or circumstances, it is probably due to laziness.
This dominant narrative is so strong that even when faced with evidence to the contrary we have a hard time swallowing it. The biblical narrative is an alternative. Some rabbinic tales feature Eliezer (Greek Lazaros) walking in disguise on the earth and reporting back to Abraham on how his children are observing the Torah’s prescriptions regarding the treatment of the widow, the orphan, and the poor. We see this story again in Luke 16. Lazarus is a poor beggar; he returns to Abraham’s, and the rich man requests that Abraham send him as a messenger to his brothers. Jesus seems to be saying, “You’ve heard this alternative narrative from me and from other rabbis and yet you still exclude the widow, the poor, and the orphan.” But perhaps he even digs a bit deeper as to say, “even if I raise from the dead you still won’t believe that I am for real about caring for each other.”
That we are disconnected from each other is perhaps the biggest lie that we have believed from dominant culture. It is the lie that was speaking as a woman listened to the readings of this text and heard the preaching of a sermon on this text and said, “It is wonderful to hear that God loves us and wants us to love our neighbor. But there are just some neighbors that don’t deserve it. I simply cant stomach it.” Apparently she didn’t like the graphic description of Lazerus and his sores. Or perhaps it was the challenge that we, with our vast resources and influence in the public realm, could use our energy to change the system that keeps Lazerus in his hell on earth.
That dominant narrative is what has made it okay in some people’s eyes to shut down government and leave countless people exposed and vulnerable. Somehow it is okay for this to happen because your principles are of more value than some life saving drug trials that were supposed to begin or the hourly wage earner who can’t work at the national park? I assure you that these things don’t seem small in their world even though they may seem trivial in the eyes of a power hungry legislator.
If nothing else, this latest temper tantrum on capital hill has been a wake up call for a lot of us. It is a wake up call that perhaps the dominant narrative isn’t exactly who we want to be anymore. As other countries stand by from a distance they too are questioning whether the narrative that is being told here is one that they want to tell for themselves. As we move on in fits and starts I hope that a new idea emerges about how to be US. I hope it is one that erases the great chasm between the haves and the have nots, one that honors the connectedness between us, and one that leaves room for all of us to thrive.