19 May 2008

An abstract

In case anyone is curious, here's the abstract I submitted last week for hopeful presentation at the southwest regional Christianity and Literature conference this October. The paper is already drafted (written originally for possible presentation at an earlier conference) but I'll revise it if the abstract is selected for this. Here goes.

Tell Me a Story: Redemptive History as the Overwhelming Narrative of Self and Sexuality

Human beings create community with narrative, and we do so because we were created in the image of a storyteller. We seek inspiration and self-exploration in various ecologies, but we finally resort to story for our own self definitions and group delineations, and those stories either resonate or conflict with the infinitely renewed nonlinear narrative of redemptive history God has been writing since before the foundations of the world. All our smallest narratives thus point us either toward or away from our creation and toward the communion we were designed to have with God himself. So we continually tell the story of how and why we came to be, especially regarding human sexuality.

In this paper, I suggest that we can only understand human sexuality when we order it according to God's overwhelming redemption story. Alice McDermott's Child of My Heart provides a good case study: the sexual fate of the novel's protagonist seems inevitable due to the wrong self-story she has adopted. Without any governing narrative of identity and purpose, without the order that God's redemptive narrative should provide her, Theresa loses herself in a false story of bodily autonomy that she, her parents, her neighbors, and her culture write easily and often about human sexuality. Theresa's wrong self-story, rooted in a wrong God-story, makes McDermott's novel a perfect example of the great stakes in the human narrative.

Indeed, we do violence to ourselves and to all human beings when we avoid or ignore our most essential story, the one that the sovereign God wrote us into and for, when we get the story about human sexuality wrong. Thus, writers of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and sermons must continue investigating deliberately and complexly the story of human sexuality, which is only ordered rightly by God's all-consuming redemptive narrative. After all, we humans will tell stories, so we might as well tell the right one: human sexuality and indeed human beings themselves depend on it.

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