Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Truest Story

In the silence of this morning’s Quaker meeting, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t be sitting in this spartan sanctuary if it weren’t for the literal version of the New Testament story.

I’ve always tried to see through that over-the-top story to the historical Jesus. The Jesus who didn’t walk on water and feed the multitude. The Jesus who wasn’t resurrected. (Thomas Jefferson set out to tell the unadorned story in his “Jefferson’s Bible,” which I highly recommend.)

But the historical Jesus, the mere human being, wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same impact as the mythological Christ. He would have been, well, just another historical figure, or, worse, he might have been utterly forgotten.

In short, the story as it has come to be told (for whatever reasons) — not the historical events — had delivered me to a Quaker Meeting House, just as it has shaped the actions of millions of others, Christian and non-Christian alike. One of those Christians was George Fox, the most influential and fervent of the early Quakers. Without his responding to the story, there would be no Quakers, no meeting house in Portland Oregon.

And without those, I would be home nursing my third cup of coffee and reading the Sunday New York Times.

Such is the power of one story among billions of stories.

All events become some kind of story, be it gossip or gospel. Because of the distortions of perspective, time and memory, those narratives become half truths and — should they survive — myth.

We are guided by distorted narratives of events — large and small.

That may sound like a bad thing. In many cases it is. But in many instances, the truth may simply be too hard to take. Think of the Jesus on the cross who is not resurrected. The tragedy cries out for Christ's resurrection. The story tellers provided it as a triumph and a powerful story that survived.

Limited human perception and self-serving selection are filters for a reason. Without our ability to exclude we would suffer overload and even tragedy. Today we might call it post-traumatic stress.

So our stories are heavily edited. And, like the Biblical story, they are blatantly embellished.

For that reason, our "back story" should be one of caution, even scepticism.

Still, stories, for all their fabrication, undeniably motivate us, set our course and deliver us to our destinations.

Today, as I thought of the compelling Biblical story, I was reminded of dozens of other stories (about confusion, war, excess, greed, isolation, love, charity, joy and fulfillment) that had lead me to the silence at our meeting house.

Silence, I decided, tells the truest story.

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