What’s your story?
Many ancient cultures told stories about our world that begin with violence. The gods were envious and angry. So they fought each other, killed each other, and we were made from the bloody aftermath as their servants.
The world that emerged was a mirror of this original conflict: kings, soldiers, and slaves competing and cowering in a struggle for status and survival. Priests enshrined the winner gods in temples and images throughout the land to remind people of where they came from and how the world works.
These stories were the bestsellers in their time. Strikingly, archaeologists have discovered versions of them in places as far afield as ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, and South America.
Why were these stories so popular?
Perhaps their popularity makes sense in light of the headline news stories we tell today. In these stories, the great events, the events that supposedly change our world and grip our attention, are often driven by competition and conflict, violence and victory. Struggles for status and survival make and unmake celebrities, companies, and entire countries. Envy, anger, and agony are all too familiar. Afghanistan is one of many grievous examples.
Then and now, the Big Story beneath these individual stories seeks to define our world and the way we live. Its plot is powerful and simple: “Conflict is how things really get started and how they’re made. So compete, cower, or get crushed. That’s reality; those are the options.”
Amidst these civilization-shaping stories, Genesis 1 dared to tell a fundamentally different story about God, our world, and ourselves. It was a dissident story inspired in a rural periphery and told by a small, seemingly insignificant people.
The story went like this:
In the beginning, yes, there is darkness and emptiness. But the Presence of God is gently hovering over it like a mother bird offering warmth and embrace. In this darkness, God does not strike out but speak. Rather than a Killer, God is a Communicator whose voice invites light and life to come forth.
Throughout God’s world-making communication, God declares blessing — words of goodness, belonging, and flourishing over animals, humans and all things. Each person is made as a reflection of God’s own dignity — God’s creativity, communication, and care. To see our neighbors with clear eyes in the temple of creation is to be reminded that this God is our sacred origin and this work is our primal vocation.
The end of the story isn’t a hierarchical system of domination but an invitation to sacred rest in cosmic community.
In its time, the Genesis story was a minority report. It was a dissident, disruptive heresy on the margin of the orthodox bestsellers. It still is today. Many listeners must have dismissed it as foreign, fanciful, and weak. It lacked the entertaining, addictive adrenaline of bloodshed, as well as the politically advantageous divine right to dominate others.
But against all odds, in one of the most unlikely outcomes of world history, the Genesis story is now the first chapter — the founding chapter — in a book read by billions of people in every corner of the earth.
If you’re like me, you’re tempted to believe the old, bestselling story of violence: compete, cower, or get crushed. That’s how the world is; those are the options. Look at the headlines; look inside yourself.
But Genesis’s ancient heretical imagination invites us into dissident practices that offer freedom, dignity, and hope for all creation still today.
First, in the darkness and emptiness that engulfs you, welcome the mothering Presence of God. Be still. Listen. Open yourself and wait. Let everything begin here.
Second, out of the darkness, echo God’s words of light and life. Speak blessing over every creature. Recognize and whisper goodness throughout your days.
Third, behold the others around you as glimpses of God. See your neighbors as sacred icons of our shared vocation to communicate and care for creation. Surrender the urge to compete and kill.
Finally, lean toward the hope of divine rest in cosmic community. The endgame isn’t an exclusive temple that sacrifices to the violent Winner. The endgame is home for every creature with God our Creator.
What’s your story? What world-shaping narrative are you rehearsing in your mind, writing on your heart, speaking with your words, and embodying in your community?
Today I choose the hopeful heresy of Genesis. I embrace its disruptive practices of calm presence, blessing creation, seeing God in others, and being carried toward rest.
I hope you’ll join me in this divine dissent.