Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shared Story

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.
Paul and Silas in prison.
Declan at the beach in Florida.

This is communication through story. Shared story. This is how an alien race in Star Trek converse with each other. They dip into the myths and stories of the past, and convey presents thoughts through allusion to these common narratives. The crew of the Enterprise understand the words, but they don't know what they mean because they aren't "in" on the stories.

The alien captain could have said to Picard, "You and I are going to go down to that planet and join forces to defeat a common enemy." Picard would have known what that meant. But all Picard got was, "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra." Without knowing the story of Darmok and Jalad, the words meant nothing to an outsider.

Nevertheless, there was a way for Picard to interpret, and the alien captain knew that way. It was the way of experience. Picard could not share the story of the past, but he could share a story in the present, and through that shared experience he could begin to interpret. By quite literally joining the alien captain on a planet in order to defeat a common enemy, he figured out what Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra was all about. These two heroes embodied a story of heroes past, and through that embodiment Picard's eyes were opened. Perhaps now he knew what Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra meant in a much deeper way than if someone explained the story to him.

There are numerous connections to be made between this story and theology/hermeneutics/church praxis, but the reality I think it touches the most (which I suppose is a reality soaked in theology/hermeneutics/church praxis) is friendship. It speaks of friendship as shared story, which is really its essence. We share our stories of the past with one another, so that the words "Declan at the beach in Florida" assume meaning. We also share experiences together, so we can talk about "That time we...". Even just one word shared between friends can trigger a whole narrative; a whole web of meaning that grounds communication in something deeper.

I sometimes look at a couple who have been married for longer than I've been alive and wonder how the communication hasn't dried up. After so many years together, surely you've said everything to each other that can be said? But this is to ignore their shared story. They have a history together that will always be talkaboutable, and they are creating new stories every day. Stories of laughter, stories of pain, stories of hope. From the outside looking in their communication might at times be incomprehensible -- as it was for Picard and his crew -- but when you're on the inside the stories mean the world.

"Our words create our worlds." Our shared stories create our world.

Jesus on a cross at Calvary.

Jesus and two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

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