by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
It’s perhaps not coincidental that many of my conversations about wakefulness have taken place in local cafes. Where would I be without Milano, Revolver, JJ, and Matchstick?
Seriously. Sometimes you need a little boost.
There is so much we’re addicted to. For some of us, it’s coffee, sure. What about money, and sex and power (you know, the usual suspects)? And then there’s something more. What about the need for significance?
I’m a user, through and through. I daily feed the addiction seeking recognition and significance, scared of being alone, scared of living an inconsequential life. Needing a boost. Seeking the buzz.
Fear emerges most profoundly on the days I cannot accept my own self-worth.
And fear leads to the need to do something to please someone other than myself. Worth as determined by the other. Not rooted in love. Not rooted in grace. It’s rooted in self, in ego, in the desire for recognition. The need to be celebrated. In fear and fracture and folly.
But there is trouble here. Allowing others to define my value offers both personal and theological problems – crises, even. And yet, the Christian story gives us a new starting point.
Our value is not instrumental. That is to say, I am not valuable because I can offer something to you or do something for you. Sure, this may be the way our current economy values things. But we are not things, not commodities, not products to be bought or sold.
Rather, our value is both inherent and relational. I am valuable because of who I am. This is my inherent value. But it does not stop there. I am not an autonomous being. I exist in relationship to other people, and, if I take the Christian story seriously, I exist in relationship to all of Creation.
Created in the image of God, we are of deep, profound value. And we are of value one to another.
There are other stories. So many other stories on offer. Some of them halfway decent. Some of them incredibly convincing. The Christian story is not the only story seeking our attention. There are other stories and storytellers. And some of those stories would renarrate our existence, recasting us in some lesser role, slaves of the empire, the man, the bottom line.
And yet, if I am to take the Christian story seriously, I am valuable because of who I am created to be. That’s it. That’s all.
But how, and when will that sink in? Not just in my head, but in my heart, my whole body, my embodied self? How will it sink into the way I think and act and relate? How will it become a part of my story. And how will I become a part of it?
The story is in the telling. And if I can’t see myself in the story, how can I be a part of it? When will the telling of the gospel story become compelling again? When will our preachers and teachers dust off that old book of stories and find ways of speaking it, writing it, telling it in new ways?
When will these stories resonate with the life I live, in the place that I live it? So long as our preaching, so long as our telling and re-telling of the story does so in abstraction; so long as our telling of the story does so with vague platitudes, how am I (and how are we) to find ourselves inside?
This is part of the journey. Of my story. It’s part of my quest and my deepest questioning. Is it not a part of my vocation to remix the old stories, to hear and to tell them anew?
Yet such a thing requires vulnerability. Vulnerability and discipline and intention. Such a thing requires deep insistence that creative engagement with the world is at least as valuable as a paycheque and stability (if not more so).
I must ask the question again: What might it mean to keep awake?