BBC Radio 4:Rev Dr Sam Wells - 19/09/2017

On the News Quiz on Radio 4 on Friday night one of the panellists said, ‘The problem with politics at the moment is that it’s really scary, really important, really confusing and really boring – all at once.’ What I sense is happening is that we’re inhabiting two overlapping stories.

The first is the Freedom Story. Once upon a time we lived in a class-ridden, race-restricted, gender-constrained and claustrophobic society. But gradually privilege and prejudice began to be dismantled and power redistributed. The agents of this transformation were technology, globalisation and finance.

For the Freedom Story, removing arbitrary barriers unleashes creativity, energy and peaceful co-flourishing. That narrative was blown apart on 9/11, with the eruption of a fanatical rejection of almost everything it stood for, and it was discredited overnight in 2008, when globalisation and finance turned from blessings to curses.

The second narrative is the Slavery Story. Why do I call it the Slavery story? Because people remember a day when there were stable communities where their parents earned a decent living. All around them they find the building-blocks of this honest, hard-working life have been dismantled. And then they see some high-up on the TV say, ‘Things are flourishing and all is well.’ And they think, ‘Either you’re living in a different country from me or I’ve become your slave.’ The anger of the Slavery Story pounces on the perceived arrogance, ignorance, and indifference of the Freedom Story. Meanwhile the power of the Slavery Story is to identify how the liberating forces of technology, globalisation and finance have paradoxically made slaves of us all.

The apostle Paul uses a provocative phrase. He talks about becoming ‘slaves to righteousness.’ For Paul we’re all part of a narrative that’s bigger than us, like it or not. Both the Freedom Story and the Slavery Story are flawed narratives, because the Freedom Story believes we’ll finally get beyond narrative and that left to ourselves we’re capable of realising all our dreams, while the Slavery Story says every narrative is really a conspiracy, and all the troubles of our life are essentially somebody else’s fault.

Becoming slaves to righteousness is about beginning to imagine a third story. It says ‘Let’s not be so taken up with identifying obstacles that we lose sight of where we’re actually going. We can’t exist outside story, so let’s make sure our narrative is one of hope and inspiration.’ But it also says, ‘In the end, you judge a story by the kind of lives that issue from it. Is our story one that cultivates hopeful habits and fosters loving community? If not, why would we hold onto it so tightly?’

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