CHRISTIAN LIVING | Lauren Entwistle & Tess Holgate
Thursday 13 August 2015
Young adults gathered twice this week in Perth to discuss the importance of stories for a meaningful existence in the world, as well as to grill a pastor on all the hard and tricky questions about the Christian faith.
Hosted by Providence Church in Perth, the first event, held on Monday night was a public lecture that tied together three types of narrative (epic, comedy and tragedy) with Christ’s story as told in the Bible. The church hopes to make the lectures an annual occasion to encourage people to engage with the Bible.
The lecture, given by Rev. Michael Jensen, an Anglican minister from Sydney, entitled “The Human Story: what Tragedy, Epic, Comedy and Gospel tell us about who we are,” delved into the nature and value of these genres, arguing that stories are essential to our humanity and our Christianity.
Jensen said that it is a common human phenomenon to imagine our lives taking the form of a narrative – with a beginning, middle and end, with conflict, and with the hope of a resolution and the discovery of who it is we really are and why we are here.
“[But] the telling of stories is actually a theological exercise,” says Jensen. “It has to do with God, or with whatever God-substitute you use to take his place. [Stories] make claims about things that are bigger than us, like fate, chance, luck, destiny, or God. You need one of these to tell a story. And that means that when you start narrating a story, including your own story, you are doing theology – you are invoking a world in which there are certain principles or forces, bigger than us, which give meaning and significance and even direction to events.”
Younger city workers made up the majority of attendees. “I brought someone from work,” explained Hannah Bottrell, who came directly from her office on Hay Street. “We only just met, but she asked what I was doing tonight and decided to come along. She appreciated it. She was like, ‘Yeah, how do you understand yourself if there’s no outside reference?’”
Jensen said, “Epic tells us that we are mortal yet hunger for immortality. Tragedy tells us that we are paradoxically the agents and the victims of our own condition. And Comedy tells us that we hunger for a morally balanced universe.
“[The idea that] stories are fundamental to who we are is both confirmed and completed by the divinely told story that the Christian Bible presents.”
Jensen said that the practical challenge for every Christian is learning how to proclaim Christ’s story to the world in the context of our daily lives.
The conversation begun by Jensen continued well after the lecture ended. Grant Dusting, a member of Life City Church in Canning Vale, asked his friends afterwards if embodying Christ’s story would look different for each of us. “How do we put flesh on all that?” he wondered.
The following night, 70 young adults gathered together in a small local bar to ask Jensen their tough questions about Christianity.
The first question was about the church’s response to asylum seekers, to which Jensen replied, “what does asylum mean? We use the term to describe a place where we put mentally ill people. We should call them people seeking safety.”
Further questions related to euthanasia, transgender, the possibility of objective morality, hell, suffering, the reliability of the Bible, the nature of faith, the Christian relationship to the state, and same sex relationships.
The Q&A only went for an hour, but many people stayed for a while afterwards to chat with friends about the topics and issues raised.
Jess, a regular churchgoer said that there were plenty of people in the room whom she didn’t know, or who only semi-regularly attended church.
Senior Pastor of Providence Church Rory Shiner said, “the tone of the night – both from Michael and the crowd – was generous and engaged. And I really feel like people listened and got heard.”