Saturday, January 10, 2009

1.4 Story

A story is another way of illustrating systems and understanding feedback. A story is a system of characters, time, and events that together achieve a particular meaning. The meaning of the relationship of these parts derives from the point of view through which the story is told. If a change is made to the point of view, then a different relationship is assigned to the parts and a new meaning emerges. For example, consider the trend in popular novels of reinterpreting familiar stories by adopting another character’s perspective and then observing how that change affects the meaning made of the tale.*

Stories are also the way that social systems, like an institution or a religious tradition, make sense of internal and external relationships and convey meaning. In the evangelical Christian story the authorized point of view is male. The primary characters studied in the Bible are male, God the Father and His Son, as well as the disciples and apostles that followed. Furthermore, it is male theologians and pastors who have the authority to interpret the texts often conveyed in sermons through examples drawn from men’s lives.

But it doesn’t require a wild literary imagination to prompt the exploration of the Christian story from another point of view. Women occupy a particular location evangelical Christian system, assigned through gender roles, and so they make sense of the story from their particular place. Through the lens of story as a system of parts we can examine the story of the evangelical Christian church. We can play with point of view. In this case, articulating the story from women’s point of view conveys a different meaning of the whole.** Heeding women’s story of the whole captures the feedback necessary for the health of the system.

I have indicated that story provides a lens for looking at a system and a mode for capturing feedback. Story also performs another systems function called feedforward. “Feedforward creates self-fulfilling prophecies.” “It is when the anticipated effect in the future, which has not yet happened, triggers the cause in the present, which would otherwise not have happened.” (O’Connor & McDermott, 1997, p. 48) The stories we believe about the future foster confidence or fuel doubts in the present. Change develops in a social system not only by responding to the feedback felt today, but also from behavior based on expectations of the future. For example as we recognize the challenge of leveraging women’s experience of “otherness” to foster change in the church we create the conditions for success by projecting a story that includes women.

The following pages articulate the influences, experiences, and thinking that together constitute my response to the question: How can women’s experience of “otherness” in the evangelical Christian church be leveraged for change in that community? Throughout this inquiry I have built upon my understanding of systems thinking and the multi-faceted power of story.

*For example, consider Wicked (Maguire, 1996) in both its book and stage versions with its wild retelling of the familiar Wizard of Oz story from a dramatically different point of view. With a shift in perspective the significance of events and characters changed dramatically. The Wicked Witch of the West is transformed from an utter villain, whose demise is a relief, into a more complex personality, who stirs in us some compassion.
**I recognize that this lens opens the exploration for other points of view as well. For the purpose of this paper I will be focusing on women. This paper is not about the principle of inclusivity but the particular experiences of women.

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