Jesus walked out of a tomb and nothing have been the same since…Down and down and then up and up is the shape of the Bible’s story and of many of its stories. It’s the shape of our lives, repeated deaths and resurrections until the Lord returns to raise the faithful dead.
David Foster Wallace starts his famous speech This is Water by describing two young fish.
They’re happily swimming along and meet an older fish coming the other way, who nods in greeting and says:
‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’
By which Foster-Wallace wanted to simply point out that the largest, most obvious realities are the hardest to see and talk about. Culture is like this. We’re all inculcated in a way of doing and a way of thinking that it’s particularly hard to spot because we’ve never known anything else.
We’re formed by that culture—that water—in a myriad of ways. I’ve written before about the work of James K. A. Smith on cultural liturgies, that our cultures act like a liturgy in forming us, and the work of Charles Taylor on social imaginaries, that our setting influences what we can plausibly imagine to be true. I’ve spun both together to suggest that the stories we live shape the pattern of our thoughts. They shape what is and isn’t plausible.
When identifying some of the more negative aspects of our culture I’ve suggested that we need to engage in counter-formation, or engage in ‘reliturgy’ to push back on the dominant narratives in which we live and breathe and have our being (Acts 17).
I know that isn’t what Acts is saying at all—but that’s sort of the point.
To reliturgise or engage in counter-formation is a task of reframing our stories. We are all made of stories. We need to tell stories and then inhabit and live stories that will earn richer fruit than what grows on the cultural coral reef. We need stories of good loam, well fertilised, carefully tilled and expertly farmed by pastor-storytellers.
The best way to do this is with the stories the Bible gives us. This works because these stories are true. If I have one, this is my theological project. Read the cultures’ stories well, retell the Bible’s better.
The Bible has a set of overarching stories—more than I’m about to list—that when lived deliberately reshape our lives. Here are some examples that you’ll notice overlap with all of my common themes.
Why do I think the answer to so many of our modern problems is to get around the table and share a meal?