Reframing the Word: Stuck in Storyville

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

This is a continuation of a series of posts called Reframing the Word which is my attempt to “lift the veil” (the true meaning of “apocalypse”) on how we’ve been reading the traditional passages of Christianity through a literal lens for too long. This series will take common passages that are interpreted literally in the name of Christian exceptionalism (i.e. The belief that Christianity is the only one true religion, and Evangelicalism is its only true expression) and seek to reinterpret them through a metaphysical lens. I believe that Jesus and the other prophets spoke in metaphysical terms and never intended their words to be taken literally. I hope you enjoy this series! Please leave your comments below.

This is the story of my life
And I write it every day
I know it isn’t black and white
and it’s anything but gray
I know that no, I’m not alright
But I’ll be OK ’cause
Anything can, everything can happen
That’s the story of my life
–The Story of My Life, Bon Jovi

When my father divorced my mother when I was nine-years-old, he ruined my life. That is the thesis of a story that have I told myself for many years. Stories are powerful things, especially the ones we tell ourselves about ourselves.

Those stories shape how we see not just ourselves, but how we see the world around us. Pick up any book, watch any movie or television show and that original seed or story idea, when it takes root, envelopes everything in its path.

That story seed, that my father ruined my life when he left, took root in many places in my life and bore a lot of bitter fruit. Because I believed that story I became very cynical. I became very angry — full of a rage that I didn’t fully ever understand. I also became very suspicious of authority figures, especially pastors, ironically enough.

From that story sprang many conflicting feelings including insecurity, fear of abandonment, fear of commitment, fear of being alone, feelings of shame, blame and unworthiness. Why else, according to my story — written by a nine-year-old brain, by the way — would daddy leave unless I were unworthy, shameful or to blame for something?

In living out that story, I became a raging cynic with a huge chip on my shoulder, always spoiling for a fight and always questioning anyone who believed they had a modicum of power over me and my life. Honestly, I was a pretty pitiful character – an adult living out the script of shame, blame and despair written by a nine-year-old.

But, I’m not so unique. Many of us are continuing to live by stories we told ourselves when we were but tiny children, injured by the actions or words of grown-ups or peers. Being bullied on the playground can cause us to write stories of fear and dread just as easily as parental divorce. We all carry stories of our wounds and insecurities and we tend to tell them to ourselves just as often as a five-year-old requests to see the movie Frozen.  

We also have overarching narratives given to us by society, religion and our families. Stories of how great our country is compared to others. Stories of how truer our religion is than other people’s and stories of how better — or worse — our family is than others.

The truth is, we love our stories, maybe especially the ones that cast us as the victim. Yeah, we have our stories where we’re the hero or where we triumphed over some adversity or challenge, but the stories we love to star in are the ones where the bad guys win and we go down in flames. That’s because the ego loves to pump us up, and then knock us down, just like the best bad guys in any box office hit.

Jesus was a guy who knew all about the power of story. Why do you think he went around telling so many of them? He used them not just as ways to seemingly evade the hard questions of his persecutors, but as teaching tools that often perplexed his listeners, even those closest to him.

But, for Jesus, the stories were also a practical way of trying to get his point across without getting himself killed. If he just told the Pharisees that they were a bunch of hypocrites who were allowing their ego’s fear and lust for power to ruin the message of love and mercy that God was trying to tell them through the scriptures and laws they loved so much, they would have nailed him to a cross before he even got a chance to turn water into wine or heal the first leper.

The main purpose of the stories then, was for those who had ears to hear and eyes to see the image of God’s love he was trying to paint in a world dominated by fearsome sights that filled the eyes and mind with horror.

“For to those who have, more will be given,” Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 13:10-17, “and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” This is not a warning about wealth or worldly possessions. This is about our spirit and whether or not we can see through the fear that leaves us locked in ego and behold the abundant love that God offers.

When we can see Jesus’ stories as images of love projected onto a world of fear, our eyes will be opened and we will comprehend everything he is trying to tell us through those stories. For those who lack this ability — those who only see the world of fear that the ego projects — they will lose everything, especially the ability to revise the story of their life from a horror story where fear and woe make them a victim to a grand hero’s tale where love and compassion saves the day for us all.

“Sokath, His Eyes Uncovered”

One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation provides a good illustration of how story can be used as a powerful tool for communication, and how our eyes and ears can be opened to this new way of seeing and being in the world when we are willing to leave our old narratives behind to learn a new one.

In the episode, Captain Jean Luc-Picard and the crew meet up with a new alien life form called the Tamarians who beam down the captains of both ships to the planet they are orbiting. Thus begins Picard’s mission to decipher the strange, metaphor-filled language spoken by the Tamarian captain. Instead of speaking in plain words, the Tamarians spoke in pictures.

For instance, the phrase “Kiteo, his eyes closed,” means that the person they were speaking to did not understand what they were saying. Or “Temba, his arms wide,” meant that someone was being generous and open.

So, the episode deals with how Picard learns to speak this strange language of story and metaphor, finally understanding that the captain had kidnapped him to the surface of the planet so that they could learn to speak to one another and build a relationship based on understanding. Finally, Picard says, “That’s how you communicate, isn’t it? By citing example, by metaphor!” To which the Tamarian captain replied, “Sokath! His eyes uncovered!”

This is what the Apostle Paul was trying to do for the new Christian community in Rome — teach them a new way of speaking about their lives and a new way of seeing their relationship to one another and the world. In Romans 8:14-17, he tells them that all who are led by the spirit, those who have been able to learn to speak the language of love of the higher self, are children of God. But, it’s easy to forget this new language, this new way of seeing ourselves and the world, he says. It’s easy to fall back into the old ego story — that story of victimhood where we are enslaved by the ego’s fearful worldview.

Paul uses the metaphor of adoption to try to help the Roman community understand that when they stop believing the fearful ego’s stories of separation, they’ll see that are not just children of God, but adopted sons and daughters who are heirs to everything the Spirit has to offer us.

Just like Jesus and his parables, Paul uses this metaphor of adoption to give the young community a new overarching story to tell about themselves. They’re no longer separate human beings, orphans in a world ruled by the ego and its fearful messages. Instead, they are beloved children of the Holy, and as those children, they are to see and relate to everyone around them as their brother and sister. They can do this because they know that adoption by the Holy has bequeathed to them a spirit of love that replaces the spirit of fear and slavery that the ego provides.

Just like that Star Trek episode, this new language being spoken by the Roman Christians would be foreign to anyone else who heard it. “You’re adopted by God? You’re now God’s children, heirs to what?”

“Kiteo, his eyes closed,” the Roman Christians would say to one another upon meeting such a person, and then, like that Tamarian captain they would work, patiently, with love, to help the other person understand — to help them stop speaking that old fearful language of the ego and write a new story — one that invites us all to love and compassion and relationship with one another, because there is really only one of us here.

“Sokath! His eyes uncovered!”  

Leaving Storyville

When my father divorced my mother when I was nine-years-old, he did me one of the greatest favors a father can do for a child.

“Sokath! His eyes uncovered!”

This is the new story I live by now — one that moves me out of my fearful ego and into a story of love and compassion for a man I now see as someone completely wrapped up in his ego. Everywhere he looked, he saw what he thought he lacked — a loving wife and children, a happy home. And so he started a new life, with a new woman — and in the end, even that was taken away — even there, he found no joy, because the ego’s motto is always, “Seek but do not find.”

My father never found the true happiness he was seeking, because he was telling the ego’s fearful story to himself. That realization alone filled me with compassion for my father. How he longed to be happy, to find a world where he was understood and could understand. But, all he ever found was the ego’s story of fear and disillusionment.

I realized my father did me a big favor by leaving after hearing stories from my older siblings about how he had treated them as children. I am the youngest of the five, so I only had nine years of experience with dad. In those nine years, I saw a man who was torn. He was very funny, very playful and extremely outgoing. But, he was also angry and violent, especially toward his children.

My sisters tell me stories of how dad also used emotionally abusive tactics of shame and blame to quash their hopes and dreams and keep them believing ego-based stories about how they were never good enough or smart enough to amount to anything in this world.  As the baby, with limited exposure to dad’s toxic personality, I was spared from most of that abuse. I don’t remember my father shaming or emotionally abusing me, but perhaps he did and I didn’t know better.

But, he abandoned me to the tender treatment of my mother, who always believed me when I told what was happening in my life and always had my back when I needed her to be there. She never really accepted or understood my sexual orientation, but she never stopped loving me or welcoming me — and my partners — into her home and her heart. My father’s treatment of that news would have been very, very different, but by his generous absence, I was spared that abuse.

With all of that information, I found a way to forgive my father for his actions. He was captured in his ego — he literally did not know what he was doing. He did not have the ears to hear or the eyes to see through the ego’s stories of fear and so he followed them, believing that was the only story of his life he could write.

He was just like the person depicted in Chapter 21 from A Course in Miracles. When we believe the ego’s stories “you will see yourself as tiny, vulnerable and afraid. You will experience depression, a sense of worthlessness, and feelings of impermanence and unreality. You will believe that you are helpless prey to forces far beyond your own control, and far more powerful than you. And you will think the world you made directs your destiny. For this will be your faith.”

So many of us, for every single day of our lives, put our faith in the ego’s stories of fear, doom and victimhood.

But, like Jesus and Paul before it, the Course, offers good news: “There is another vision and another Voice in Which your freedom lies, awaiting your choice. And if you place your faith in them, you will perceive another Self in you.”

That other vision, that other voice, is the Holy inviting you to realize that the sad stories you’ve told yourself about your life all these years are not the truth. You have not been given a spirit of fear that would keep you enslaved to the ego. Instead, you are children of God and as such, you have the power to rewrite the story of your life.

You have the power to see things differently and to realize that while the ego has spent all this time working against you, the spirit stands ready to work for you in the form of your highest divine Self. When you can realize that, the Course says, “This other Self sees miracles as natural. They are as simple and as natural to It as breathing to the body.”

Remember, miracles are simply a shift in perception. Being able to stop seeing my father’s actions as being responsible for all of the trouble I faced in life and instead learning to see that what he did, though it was painful at the time, was actually very good for me, is a miracle. I was able, through learning this new language of love and compassion, to see through the actions of his ego and perceive him as an innocent child of God — joint heirs with me in the unity that God offers us all in every moment.

In this new story, my father is no longer the villain who abandoned me, but simply a man who brought me into this world to teach me about relationships and how forgiving myself and those around me can bring me into right relationship with myself and everyone else.

Jesus’ stories, Paul’s new language and the Course’s invitation show us that we have options. We don’t have to be stuck in our fearful egoic stories of shame and blame. We are not life’s victims, we are life’s heroes, and as such, we are God’s messengers in the world that there is another way. We are here to tell the story of love, the story of compassion, the story of how light can obliterate the darkness.

Those around us may not yet understand our new language. They may still be like Kiteo, with his eyes closed.

But if we, like that persistent Tamarian captain, approach all we meet with patience, love and compassion, eventually we’ll all be able to say: “Sokath! His eyes uncovered!”

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