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Looper column: What story are you living in?

Shayne Looper
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Cheboygan Daily Tribune

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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The county in which I live has the second-highest positivity rate for COVID-19 in the entire state. The county with the highest rate is right next door. Our governor has extended the restrictions placed on gatherings. The compulsory closure of businesses continues.

With businesses in our state and around the country shuttered, Congress is still at an impasse over the next coronavirus relief plan. They will almost certainly agree to something - political survival likely depends on it - but it will be too late for many businesses and the people they employ.

More bad news. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other infectious disease specialists are expecting a surge of coronavirus illnesses just in time for Christmas. Doctors and politicians are urging families to avoid holiday gatherings this year. The effect of a COVID-19 Christmas on relationships, suicide rates and the economy is unknown but ominous.

We live in a constantly changing story and, in America at least, we do not agree on what the story is. Is it the story of a convincing victory by the Democratic presidential contender or is it the story of massive voter fraud and election hijacking? Is it the story of a devastating pandemic or of media hype?

Because we cannot agree on the story, we can hardly talk to each other. There was a time when there was broad consensus on the outlines of the American story. Certainly some of the plotlines - who was best qualified to carry the story forward, for example - were open to debate, but we mostly agreed on the story’s major themes.

This was largely true of both men and women, home-grown and naturalized citizens. Because of slavery, black Americans saw the past differently, as did people of Indigenous American descent, who were subject to broken treaties, theft of land and mass extermination. But even within these groups, the future story held a similar shape.

If America is to move forward together and thrive, Americans need to share the same story. It must be an inclusive story, one that takes in men and women, birthright citizens and immigrants, people of different races, ethnicities and religions. To accomplish this, we need more than a commander in chief in the White House. We need a storyteller in chief.

Donald Trump has not been that kind of president and I don’t know that Joe Biden fits the role either. But if Americans continue telling different stories, they will continue going different directions, and we will be indivisible no more.

Some Americans, however, have a resource that others lack: faith. They know themselves to belong to a larger story, a metanarrative. The remarkable chronicles of the United States and those of all other nations are but subplots in a story that began before the Americas were “discovered” and will continue into the age to come.

Christopher Wright, the director of Langham Partnership International, frequently asks people, “What story are you living in?” A person of faith is able to give an answer that goes well beyond saying, “I’m living the COVID-19 story,” or “I’m living in the story of the return of nationalism,” or even, “I’m living the story of a terminally ill person.” They can say, “I am living in the Creator’s story and, though it is filled with ups and downs, it has a happy ending.” Knowing their story enables them to understand their identity and grasp their hope.

Philip Greenslade believes it is possible to “indwell” the biblical story in such a way that a person begins to “look out from the biblical world with new eyes onto our postmodern lives.” People who live this way stop “trying to make the Bible relevant” to their lives and instead find their lives “being made relevant to the Bible.”

Wright adds, “Our lives should be governed by this great, overarching story of the Bible. Our present should be shaped by the biblical past and the biblical future. This is our narrative. This is who we are …”

We cannot know who we are until we know what story we are in. If it is the biblical one, as I believe, its climax has been reached but not its end. There are good things ahead.

Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, Michigan. His blog, “The Way Home,” is at shaynelooper.com.