I'm re-reading Tim Keller's The Reason For God. I've been re-reading a number of books over the last 6 months. I find it refreshing to revisit texts important to my spiritual formation, including some of the very first books I read as a new believer. They were over my head at the time, but now have riches I can appreciate and absorb.
As I was up hours before dawn this morning, I returned to Reason for God and was stuck by a couple of sentences in Chapter One entitled, There Can't Be Just One Religion:
"What is religion then? It is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing."
"Notice that this (i.e., the material world is all there is) is not an explicit 'organized' religion, it contains a master narrative, an account about the meaning of life along with a recommendation for how to live based on that account of things."
"Everyone lives and operates out of some narrative identity, whether it is thought out and reflected upon or not. All who say 'You ought to do this,' or 'You shouldn't do that' reason out of such an implicit moral and religious position."
So what is a narrative? According the the Oxford Dictionaries Online it's: (a) The narrated part or parts of a literary work, as distinct from dialogue; (b) The practice or art of telling stories; (c) A representation of a particular situation or
process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of
aims or values. Put simply, my narrative identity includes how I understand myself based from my core values, life choices, people I've known and learned from, my gains ans loses; what I've embraced and given myself to for almost 65 years.
Prior to being enticed and found by Christ in 1972, my narrative identity was formed by life in the McDermott family with my father, mother, younger brother, grandmother, and aunts, uncles, and cousins in Albuquerque New Mexico. This identity was also shaped by school chums, girlfriends and the strong family culture of being a middle-class, Irish-Catholic white people in the diverse racial mix of the Southwest. This unfolding identity included the various neighborhoods in which I lived, the liberal Democratic politics my parents embraced and I heard debated; where I went to school from kindergarten to university; being in Cub Scouts, playing baseball, watching television, hiking in the Sandias, having my first jobs, taking lessons and learning to play drums, then becoming a musician.
When I became a Christ-follower and soon after a husband, my narrative identity changed radically regarding how I understood myself, what life actually meant; what the good - as in virtuous, moral, loving, true - life looked like apart from much of what I assumed prior. I changed my understanding and conformed my way of life around what really mattered as defined by following Christ. I still worked and lived in American culture, but not in an unexamined way. I now had a narrative identity which challenged the story I'd lived before and the meaning of life I'd accepted uncritically: as in what really is of transcendent worth and what isn't.
While the recognizability and expressing of my personality did not alter genetically at regeneration, my narrative identity was revolutionized spiritually, ethically and morally: first below the surface and then in my attitudes and behaviors as i took seriously the reality of sin. I gave my heart to the way of life revealed in the Scriptures and let be influenced by the indwelling unction of the Spirit. I became a new creation and still remained Kit within this new narrative identity.
Forty-two years later, the narrative identity I live today has matured, expanded, deepened, and transformed me beyond what I couldn't have even conceived when I agreed with Christ to give him me. I cannot see any other identity as being of more worth than this one which has bound my heart to the most meaningful STORY in the universe; in fact, the one which gives inestimable value to, animates, and sustains all of Creation. I still live it needing help daily, but this narrative compels and sustains me like no other. I neither seek nor desire another spiritual identity. I apprehend no other narrative through which people find essential meaning, whether it be political, social, professional, ethnic, sexual, artistic, cultural, or national that would have the power to draw my heart away toward a new narrative identity. I've examined them all and can find no equivalently transcendent meaning which compares in ultimate value. Certainly, there is value and meaning in all of them, but not in a first things way.
Based on the last forty-two years of discovery, exploration, and growth, I can't predict how my narrative identity will continue to develop, but I can attest I will stay put in my Christ-knowing, Christ-loving and Christ-following narrative until my days come to an end here. I've much still to learn and change and grasp, but I've had four-plus decades to examine Christ and His patient, gracious work with the likes of me. Nothing else in this mysterious, beautiful, tormented, astounding Creation compares; not even close.