September 2016 Field Notes
If you’ve been following Field Notes over the past year or more, you’ve probably heard me talk about the importance of stories. Our lives are over-Tweeted and under-narrated. We are inundated with sound bites and lacking in the long, reflective storytelling that helps us make sense of our world.
Montana writer William Kittredge, quoting the poet C.K. Williams, said that the predominant mental illness of our time is narrative dysfunction: when we “lose track of the story of ourselves, which tells us who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act.” Narrative dysfunction happens to individuals. It also happens to entire societies. “We all know a lot of stories,” Kittredge says, “and we’re in trouble when we don’t know which one is ours. Or when the one we inhabit doesn’t work anymore, and we stick with it anyway.”
When I think about the work of this program—now named the Food, Health, and Ecological Well-being Program—and the WFU School of Divinity’s work from which this program stems, it occurs to me that we are challenging our society’s narrative dysfunction. And we do that by nurturing and sharing narratives that heal.
In the School of Divinity, we train Christian leaders to care for the Grand Narrative of God’s salvation of the cosmos. We teach them to look for ways that story is enacted in their own lives, and to help people in their congregations and communities see it enacted in theirs. Being a Christian, you might say, is living your life according to a story you happen to think is true.
In the Food, Health, and Ecological Well-being Program, we convene programs, teach classes, and host workshops, all of which are storytelling lessons in counter-narrative. We know that the dominant narrative of our industrial food system is dysfunctional. We also know that our global economy is causing our atmosphere to heat up. The end result of both is ill health for people and planet. The dominant story of how we feed ourselves and how we power our lives doesn’t work anymore, yet our society sticks with it anyway. We challenge that by telling stories of individuals and faith communities who are creating healthier ways of producing and sharing food, deriving our energy, and growing justice.
I’ll be sharing more in the coming months about the kinds of stories we’ll be telling (and which storytellers we’re inviting) through our continuing education events this year, but to begin I want to invite you to attend a conference I’ve been planning for quite some time.
It’s called Faith in Literature: A Gathering of Contemporary Writers of the Spirit October 21-22, 2016. This event is jointly sponsored between the School of Divinity and UNC Asheville, and will be held on the campus of UNCA.
This gathering is another way of challenging our society’s narrative dysfunction. Stories and poems, when carefully made, can create empathy and kinship across differences. In a time when so much public talk is debased and false and soul deadening, I think people are hungry for language that returns us to our better selves. Our faith traditions contain a treasure house of words, metaphors, and stories that do just that. With that in mind I invite you to join this celebration of writers and readers who use the language of faith.*
Preaching is one way the church cares for its story, and this Fall the School we will convene the Festival of Prophetic Preaching. Dr. Leah Schade, author of Climate-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit, will be one of our featured speakers and workshop leaders.
Yours in the care of stories that matter,
Director of the Food, Health, and Ecological Well-Being Program
Assistant Professor of the Practice of Ecological Well-Being
*note: the two evening ticketed events will go on sale at noon on September 12. Even if you are unable to get evening tickets, the rest of the conference during the daytime is free and open to the public.