Chapter 7: Truth Exists Within a Narrative



And I'm not sure that I'm hearing the story.

Spoken word and performance poetry is an increasingly recognized genre. I don't know that it is "mainstream" - whatever that means - but neither is it characteristically subcultural. The result of a growing appreciation for the art is a surge of people feeling more empowered to share their own. I'm all for that. I love that I'm playing more and more shows with folks who want to try their hand at poetry.

But spoken word is more than talking into a microphone. And poetry is more than a series of truth statements.

As a Christian, I perform with a lot of other Christian artists. Though, I believe that truth's existence within a narrative is equally true outside of the faith conversation. Here, for the time I have in this short post, is where I will land.

Connecting with an audience, or effectively communicating the gospel, for that matter, is going to take more than droning out a list of rhythmic doctrinal truths. Much of what I hear, though, is exactly that:

Line 1: Something true.
Line 2: Doctrinal reality.
Line 3: This is a true thing.
Line 4: This is also true.
Line 5: Theological something.
Line 6: Respond, because you should care about all of the true things I just said.
End of poem.

My question is, why should I care? Why should anyone care? What of your rightness, or righteousness? Compiling truths into stanzas that end with rhyming words does not make a person a compelling communicator.

We need to hear the story. We need the protagonist, antagonist. We need something to empathize with. Conflict, and hope in resolve.

Consider preaching, and what we last looked at with Dr. Bryan Chapell two weeks ago. One knows when he has heard a good sermon. A mark of it is the preacher's ability to communicate a fallen condition focus. That is to say, something we all fall short of. He effectively articulates sin in such a way that one sees, feels, and knows he is not a savior unto himself. This convicts wayward sons in their rebellion and levels the pedestals of the self-righteous. It elicits a response, and (hopefully) that response is desperation - the need for grace. To accomplish this, one uses illustration. Story. Perhaps he asks the congregation to close their eyes and picture themselves in the place of its characters.

One does not see his need for grace because the pastor says, "You need grace, and that's true." He builds the narrative. Grace does not taste as sweet as it should until one has seen his need for it. The more impassable the obstacle, the grander our applause for grace’s happily-ever-after.

I think that we have an amazing opportunity as writers to practice incarnational living in such a way that engages the pain, joy, brokenness and hope of our world through our art. But embodying, reflecting, and imaging Christ in that way requires all of us. Anything less than excellence squanders the work that we do.

And it is hard work. Missional living will require more of us than to slap acquaintances across the face with our truth statements in order to say we've washed their blood off our hands. Your writing is an opportunity to enthrall us with the goodness of the gospel (or the goodness of any story - not every poem demands a salvation call), serve your listeners with thought-provoking art, and perhaps even build friendships, being a consistent character in the storyline that your audience is living.

Do not spout objectivities and hold everyone at an arm's length until they subscribe to your truth; invite them into your story and help them to see it.

Lastly, I'm not saying I've got it down pat, and there are a thousand people who would argue that I've never written (let alone articulated that writing) with excellence. And I'm still learning. None of us will ever stop doing that. Nor am I advocating an "if necessary use words" type of social gospel. I believe that Good News is explicit. Nor am I saying that God only works systemically, and I've got the system, or that the Holy Spirit can't work in whatever means he chooses. But I'm not just talking gospel here, either. I'm talking writing.

"Gravity is good" is another truth statement that means a lot more in the context of "…because without it we'd all be sucked into space and suffocate."

Go, therefore, and tell a good story.