Recently there have been a number of films and TV shows that have based the dramatic elements of their presentation not in action or character development, but in the intricate and mysterious ways that distinct narratives of individual people come together.
In films like Crash and Babal, the heart of the story surrounds the odd interactions of people from distinct and different worlds. In a globalized world that, ironically, seems to push us away from a shared human story rather than into one, such films ask questions about how we might impact other peoples’ lives in very deep ways without knowing it. Or to say it another way, how might we be connected beyond what our social constructs allow us to see?
In TV shows like the new drama, Damages, and the hit show, Lost, time and space are blurred, bouncing the viewer between past to present, back and forth again and again to show us how distinct narratives of individuals cross each other and impact our individual destinies. Lost, for instance, at least in my mind, seems to ask the fundamental question, what if everything really is connected? In a world in which it seems so may of our interactions (such as getting cash at an ATM, renting a movie, sitting next to someone on a plane, cutting someone off on the highway) are routine, or errands void of meaning, it asks, what if such occurrences are connected to a larger narrative? What if such things, while seeming to be easily deleted from the hard drive of our consciousness, actually, were to reappear to reveal that they possessed within them a story that could not be easily deleted? Lost asks, what if such meaningless happenings were actually knit into a larger story? We are so used to such things being arbitrary and forgettable, that to entertain such thoughts is haunting and frightening. Therefore, when the viewer is given a flashback that reveals that Jack and Desmond, now stuck on an island together as apparent strangers, had a short, random and irrelevant conversation years earlier (that is spookily meaningful, now that they are so clearly connected) we are shocked and frightened.
Lost, like the new HBO show, John from Cincinnati, not only draws on the evocative idea that our actions are bound in a larger narrative (that the individualism of modernity and late-modernity may be more of an illusion than reality), but also asks, what if this larger narrative links not only distinct persons to one another but also with something metaphysical? These two shows draw out the metaphysical reality to push against not only individualism, but also the positivism of modernity. They ask whether we have been socialized to ignore the larger narrative, but also, what if at the heart of the larger narrative is a reality that is mysterious and spiritual? What if we have not only been taught to believe that our random actions in society have no connection to other’s story or a larger story, but also have been taught to ignore that this story revolves around something beyond us?
What does all this mean for preaching? It signals the need for the preacher to be a storyteller, knitting together peoples’ distinct narratives in the world, showing connections between multiple stories and God’s own story of revelation and reconciliation within history. The preacher must be able to (like in Lost and Damages) skillfully bounce back and forth in time and space, taking people from the biblical world to their own and back again. By richly indwelling the stories of individuals, society, and the world, exploring how they are connected to the single narrative of God’s continued ministry, the preacher lifts up narratives and point out their interpenetration. The preacher’s objective (as with the best narratives) is to invite people to join him or her as the storyteller seeks to articulate the mystery and beauty of this reality into which God enters to love it in the powerful weakness of God’s own humanity.