The battle of the narratives ….. (Part Two)



A month ago I wrote a blog piece here* about the importance of  how narratives become framed in the stories of our lives, our communities, and our nations, another month on and in the wake of yesterdays announcement from the Prime Minister to “Stay Alert” I’m feeling the need to return to the topic.

Stories are powerful, they convey truths, images, hopes and dreams that facts and figures simply cannot. Of course they can also speak into our fears an insecurities, offering us either challenge or comfort. Humanity has been framed by stories from the outset of what we might call “civilisation”, but I would imagine they were being shared long before that, they are perhaps a large part of what makes us human, and how we make sense of the world around us, it’s past, present and it’s future.

As a person of faith I know that our sacred stories have been told and retold, written down in our Bibles and other texts and are to us a revelation in stories of how we (and other generations) see and encounter God in the world, stories of how we see our relationship with God, and how we believe we should live in the world in our times. The “truths” are eternal, but the stories get re-told, and re-framed from age to age.

Just as we need to actively engage with those sacred stories as we reflect and grow in our spiritual journeys, so to should we engage with the political and societal stories that surround us and likewise question and reflect on what may lie behind them.

The UK is in a period of major narrative formation ….. the Brexit debate (remember that) has largely been dominated by it, and so too now is the Covid19 pandemic.

I was attending yet another zoom session last week, this one organised by Church Action on Poverty, we were discussing the power and importance of stories. One thing that struck me in those conversations was just how much of the current media coverage of the UK pandemic experience has been couched in terms of “heroes” and “victims”. NHS and Care Home workers, foodbank volunteers, and fundraiders are shown to us day after day “heroically” doing all kinds of things (and I’m not disputing that many are), but then there are the “victims”; the old people, the sick, the dying, the ones who are struggling with lockdown. Much of the narrative places you in one camp or another, whereas for many of us we sit between the two, neither hero or victim, just doing what we can to get by.

A second key narrative being pushed at the moment is a populist nationalist narrative,  which seeks to portray Britain as a “nation alone” with strong “martial” nation tradition at it’s heart. By that I mean a nation whose history and culture is one of military pride and victory, even in times of relative peace. So we see whole framing of “the battle” against Covid19 crisis is filled with stories of “heroism” “the frontline” and countless other military metaphors …. it is why Capt Tom Moore is so feted (not that I begrudge his effort) but we need to understand that he is feted, in part at least, because he is a “Captain” a “war hero” and fits the narrative.Other people, other senior citizens have raised thousands of pounds during this same period and have gone largely ignored. The Queen evokes memories from world wars as she (and the nation) celebrate the anniversary of VE Day, and a nation sings “We’ll Meet Again” in the midst of a public health lockdown.  Likewise, there are attempts (with varying degrees of success) to draw comparisons between Boris Johnson and a war time PM, Winston Churchill, and in the narrative our “finest hours” are re-run ….. and re-written.

Today I also read something that talked about another developing narrative, the piece by Jon Alexander** explains how the Governments revised strategy announced last night by Boris Johnson attempts to shift focus from a Government responsibility to protect people, to and individualisation of the responsibility to “stay alert” and basically look out for your own health.

There were signs of this earlier of course, when the Government slightly amended it’s fifth condition for easing the lockdown, from: “avoid a second peak” to “avoid a second peak that overwhelms the NHS”. A small difference in words, but as we now know more than 30,000 people in UK have died from Covid19 in this first wave and the NHS was not overwhelmed, therefore those simple words could allow for a further 30,000 to die and still be framed as sucessful by the Government. The infamous “herd immunity” is back on the stage, if in the shadows, and peoples need to use  “common sense” is re-emerging as the well worn phrase to mark that shift from public to private. So if you’re feeling a little confused right now …. you’re meant to be and it’s all your fault! Okay so maybe thats being overly harsh, but the narrative being framed is clear; Government has done it’s bit, now it’s over to you – use common sense, if others aren’t then blame them.

All this matters of course, not just because it risks putting more lives sat risk (as long as those numbers are manageable in the Government scenario), but also because it will help frame the world we emerge into beyond the pandemic. The narrative very much matters, now and into the future.


* The battle of the narratives …. (Part One)

** Jon Alexander blog

A Teller of Stories



I’ve recently realised that part of my Pioneer Ministry role is that of of story teller and interpreter, and also  being a collector and curator of these stories…… so I  thought I’d spend some time trying to explore and explain what  I mean by this?

The Bible of course is full of stories, different kinds of stories – Parables – Histories – Prophesy (as well as poetry, but that’s for another time maybe). Each type of story contains and holds “a truth” but that truth is displayed differently in each type of story. Truths are not always the same as simple facts, truths may need unpicking and unpacking, they maybe hard to understand merely as “facts” but easier to understand as experiences, or stories.

So, I’ve become an accidental collector, curator and teller of local stories, contemporary stories; historical & memory stories about communities and places. Stories of people and places long gone, as well as those still standing. Stories of, how people have made change happen, what dreams they have dreamt. Memories of buildings past and present; like how the church at Tabor came to be the first public building on the estate, of mission huts, and the “church plants” (in the 1940-50’s). In and through these, we can gather a sense of place, of a bigger journey of which ours is merely a part, not an individuals story, but a collective story of a living, changing community.

Alongside these collective and community “histories” are the individual life stories, not just past but importantly in the present. Stories of lives being lived, choices being made, hurts shared, struggles survived and celebrations enjoyed. Here in these stories we find and can share our humanity, we identify we are not alone in our grief, or our addiction, or our pain. Nor a we the first to try something new, or the first to succeed or fail.

These stories have a sense in which they become part of our Sacred Stories – the stories that alongside our ancient texts, with their lasting truths,make our lives and our faith alive and present.