Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Human Stories and the Mission of God

Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Human Stories and the Mission of God

Article excerpt

American author Elbert Hubbard is credited with the comment that "life is just one damned thing after another." But even if this were true, who can function in everyday life with such a cynical outlook? Rather, we need to find ourselves in some narrative, for each human being is, quite literally, "words made flesh." Without stories--stories about ourselves, about our families and ancestors, about our social groups, tribes, nations, and religions--there can be no self-consciously distinctive human existence. Stories are integral to human identity, providing one with a sense of location vis-a-vis everything and everyone else. It is our participation in these stories that makes us "we" and the rest "they." Personal and communal identity means participating in the selective common memory of a uniquely delimited group.

The precise shape, content, and interpretation of historical recollection can be highly controversial and is not easily controlled. Some people and groups stubbornly insist on versions of memory that are viewed as seriously distorted, deliberately falsified, or even potentially threatening to the preservation of the social status quo. The recent assassination in Istanbul of Hrant Dink--editor-in-chief of Agos, a bilingual Turkish and Armenian weekly newspaper--is a reminder of how loath a people are to be reminded of their trespasses. One of Turkey's most prominent Armenian voices, Dink enraged Turkish nationalists in October 2005 by writing about the slaughter, exile, and disappearance from Asia Minor of nearly two million Armenians between 1915 and 1923. Because the official government report admits to only war-related "relocations" and some "untoward incidents," he was charged under article 301 of Turkey's penal code with insulting Turkish identity and was given a suspended sentence. Dink, but not the memory of Turkish atrocities, is now dead.

Sadly, this tragedy is not exceptional. Human beings experience and interpret events so variously that their stories must, it seems, always be in conflict. Since our stories are inevitably incomplete, one-sided, and only partially true, the custodians of more self-flattering narratives must do their utmost to silence or discredit alternative versions. As George Orwell famously observed, "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

The question posed by Stanley Skreslet in his lead essay (whether there is a missiological approach to the history of mission), then, is as natural as it is legitimate. …

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