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Imperialism, Xenophobia, and the narratives we live by…

There’s a basic human longing we all have to be part of something bigger than ourselves – a grand narrative or “metanarrative” as some call it (literally a “beyond story” – a story above our individual lives). It’s only when we have a place in a bigger story that we know how to live and what decisions to make. Politicians are very familiar with this concept, and often use it to entice supporters – simply by convincing them of some grand narrative that they’re part of. Apartheid politicians used to convince their supporters they were part of the Frontier Narrative, that they existed as bold adventurers out to subdue the wild (and its inhabitants, unfortunately for them). Colonial politicians like the recently-notorious Rhodes, not only convinced others but truly believed in an Imperial Narrative – that they existed to spread civilization into undeveloped societies, and that the means (often exploitative) justified their grand ends. Modern South Africans are now very familiar with the reactionary Liberation Narrative – where Braveheart’s “Freedom!” is the ultimate good. In fact, this one is so powerful that it often obscures the new types of bondage that the liberators bring. Xenophobia is a form of the age-old Nationalist Narrative where a person’s value and rights depend on them belonging to a particular nation. Then there’s the secular humanist Evolutionary Narrative where advancement and development is the greatest good, no matter if that means killing off weaker humans who might hold us back from being the best that we can be (like the millions of unborn babies murdered every year).

Grand narratives like this are both absolutely essential for us to have any sense of purpose in our lives, but also, obviously, very dangerous – as the fundamentalist Islamic grand narrative of a united caliphate is currently demonstrating. But we all have one… we all belong, consciously or subconsciously, to a bigger story. What’s your grand narrative? What is the bigger story of your world and your existence that determines how you live today, what you value and how you make decisions in life? The next question is; how do you know that your grand narrative is in fact, true? That is a vital but often ignored question in our world. The reason we fail to live at peace with one another is because we all live according to different, opposing narratives, but hardly anybody stops to ask whether their particular narrative is true – they just accept it because their parents did or their culture does, and resist or discriminate against those who don’t. Therefore, the only way humans will ever experience genuine peace is if we are aware of, and begin to live by, one real narrative that is true for us all.

Jesus claimed to know that real narrative, and came to tell it to us. He told us about his Father in heaven, who made us to know and enjoy him, but who’s fellowship in an act of rebellious self-governance we rejected. Jesus told us of the consequences of that broken relationship, and the seriousness of the situation we’re in. He wasn’t popular for that, of course, which eventually led to his execution. But he hadn’t finished telling us the story… when he rose from the dead he not only told us the story of new life, new beginnings, restoration and forgiveness… but he proved to us that his story is the real one. Now he calls us to be part ofthat narrative. With all the alternate narratives we live by, Jesus was adamant to prove the truth of the narrative he brought – in Acts we read “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God”. He then established the worldwide church, based on these first eyewitnesses to his resurrection, as the means by which the real narrative of our world would be spread. That is the job of the church today – we are here to communicate the real story of our world. As Jesus warned us, we won’t be liked for that. But it is the single most important task in the world today… because unless the world hears the true story, we will always be slaves to false ones, and never truly be free. That’s why Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

For an excellent summary of the real story Jesus came to bring, click here.

Categories: Blog

About Nick

Nick is the Pastor of St Mark's church in Plumstead, a suburb of Cape Town.

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