Back in the day, I took an English course at the University of Alberta. The professor was young, passionate about literature, and a wholly likeable guy. He was also passionate about preaching the dictums of postmodernism. He told us that postmodernism is the way of the future.
I wasn’t convinced.
One day he raised a finger to the ceiling and declared that most popular of postmodern edicts: “There is no ultimate truth!”
I cleared the earwax out of my ear and said, “Come again?”
He passionately re-exclaimed, “There is no ultimate truth!”
I liked the guy so I refrained from rolling my eyes. “Except,” I said. “That by proclaiming that there is no ultimate truth, you are in fact proclaiming an ultimate truth.”
I said, “Don’t you really mean to say that there is no ultimate truth except this one, that there is no ultimate truth?”
“Except,” I went on, “If you believed that, then you would be soundly in the camp of the religious who would declare that they too hold to one ultimate truth. And in doing so, does that not unmask the whole thing as simply looking for another way to redeem ourselves?”
His surprising answer was that he began to cry.
In that moment I understood two things: 1) I was so going to fail this course, and 2) I had grown weary of the cultural meat grinder of postmodern deconstructionism.
On Monday, Katy pointed us to a video called The Arc of Storytelling by Bobette Buster. The whole video is interesting, but I’m focusing on the content from around the nine-minute mark to the end, which is where she talks about story as the vehicle by which we understand by “seeing” that transformation is possible, and redemption is attainable.
Every one of us has come through that meat grinder of postmodern thought. We’ve focused our questions and attention on deconstructing the notions of what it means to be human, and of pretty much everything we see, touch, think, hope for, and believe. But what I have noticed is that entire generations of people are weary, frightened, and hopeless. And these deconstructed people are looking for stories that show them they are more than the sum of their parts.
Transformation and redemption
Bobette Buster focused on transformation as the key story element that captures audience (reader) imagination and elevates that story to the position of “success” or “worth keeping”. I like how she phrases this by pointing out the transformation brings the character fully alive. It’s more than proving we are capable of change, it’s the hope that we can (will) become people who meet life head on with gusto, verve, purpose, and passion. Yes, purpose. Not mindlessly wandering from home to work to the TV set, to bed, and then start all over again the next day. But to know what it is we’re here to do, and then have the guts to go out and do it. Fully alive.
Buster ties the concept of transformation to redemption, which she means not in the theological sense per se, but in a more general sense. Still, redemption is more than the second chance; it’s a state of being in which transformed, fully alive live. The place where we understand that regardless of circumstances we are supported by someone or something greater than our self.
The generations who grew up inside of postmodern deconstructionism are still looking for the redemption story their guts tells them is out there. Even after been weened on the notion that such a thing doesn't exist. Stumbling, getting lost, losing hope, finding it again, they are searching.
For these people, ultimate truth is an answer they must be left to discover on their own (hence their distain for preachy stories with an agenda), but they are looking to story to remind them they are more than the sum of their parts, they have purpose, and a hopeful future. That they can be the heroes of their own lives.
Writers who are people of faith need to keep two things in mind: transformation is a journey that cannot and should not be summed up in a single prayer. It is a journey, and that fact must be respected in our story. Secondly, redemption isn’t what we think it is. It’s better than that. It is a state of being that allows us to experience our fully aliveness. People don’t want to transform into churchgoers, they want to transform into wholly alive human beings with the courage to face difficult, even impossible odds, with courage, knowing there is “an inexorable force in the universe there to support you if you keep going, you will discover the faith, the courage to move on.”
Until we can approach the concepts of transformation and redemption sensitively, and understand the journey that they entail, rather than racing to the finish line, we will be stuck in the postmodern meat grinder, proclaiming that our ultimate truth is better than that guy’s ultimate truth.
To put it another way, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”