[Note: This post is based on “Counterscript,” an article by Walter Brueggemann in The Christian Century (November 29, 2005). It also appears online.]
There is a ghost-written story line (an underlying script, if you will) that each of us carries within ourselves. This story-line helps us understand who we are, what gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and provides us with a sense of security. We inhale the story line from our parents, our teachers, church, and the communities within which we grew up. We are aware of many of the elements of the story line; other parts are outside of our awareness. The tricky thing is that we have multiple story lines that are often in conflict with one another. The church is a battleground between a cultural story line and a spiritual story line.
The cultural story line is what John Dominic Crossan calls the normalcy of civilization – that is, it has been the way empires, through the ages, have engaged mind control over their citizens. For us, the consummerist story line reads something like this:
There is a therapeutic cure for every malady – take the right pill, buy the right product, follow the right regimen and you will be healthy, beautiful, sexy, and popular.
We can solve any problem we set our minds to. We have the technology, experiences, and resources to make your life easier and happier – all you need to do is possess one more gadget or device that will solve a problem you never even knew you had.
We are at our best when we realize that the world has all the resources to satisfy our wants and needs. And, after all, our wants and needs are more important than theirs. Buy… Use (or don’t use)… Discard….
You will be protected by multiple layers of First Responders and people in uniform. We will make sure that your therapeutic technological consumerism is protected at all costs. Any threat (internal or external) will be considered un-American and a threat to national security.
This cultural story line is reiterated and legitimized by advertising, the media, government officials at all levels, lobbyists and corporation influence in decision-making, and by the visible presence of heavily-armed police and military forces.
As Brueggeman suggests, this story line, “with its illusion of safety and happiness, invites life in a bubble that is absent of critical reflection.” This cultural story line has failed to keep us happy and secure.
There is an alternate story line present in the Bible (and, in some fashion or other, in all the major religions of the world). We call that story line “the Kingdom of God” or, as I prefer to call it the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. This story line is more like the storyboarding process developed by Walt Disney Productions in the 1930 – a list of images or illustrations that pre-visualize the final story line. It is a cobbled-together collection of symbols and messages that call us to a life of peaceful, non-violent resistance that undermines and invalidtes the cultural story line by offering justice based on human needs and affections.
The church – that means “US” – has been entrusted with this alternate story line about a God who is so enamored with human life that we talk about Jesus as God enfleshed… God as part of everyday life… God as the inner push for community (not isolation or superiority), peace (not violence or privilege), love (not fear or hatred).