George Lakhoff introduced us to the power of framing. Booman and Scribe and others wrote compellingly about the power of stories. Framing and stories work in ways and with intensity that most of us never realize — much to our detriment.
On the heels of these discussions, and in one of those rare instances of cosmic synergy, I’ve recently come upon three different and wonderful books about stories of power and the power of stories.
Craig S. Barnes in “In Search of the Lost Feminine” argues that the western stories of patriarchy and war have circumscribed our thinking and action for millennia. In a book that is part art history and part political science, Barnes looks at the Minoan culture. The Minoans, despite being Islanders, were not isolated – they traded far and wide across the Mediterranean. Yet, the Minoans seem to have existed for more than a thousand years without war! Since they had no written language and since much of the physical culture was buried or destroyed in a calamitous earthquake/tidal wave, it is only recently that archeological finds have allowed a significant body of scholarship on Minoans to be developed.
Like a detective sifting through clues, Barnes tries not to project a twenty-first century perspective on the evidence. Were the Minoans a matriarchy? Did they worship goddesses? Barnes maintains that it is impossible to know. What is known is that neither war nor violence against women is portrayed in their art and artifacts.
Greek culture with its hero/war worship evolved just as the Minoan culture waned. Also at the same time, the books of the Old Testament were being written. The Greek and Judeo cultures eclipsed those of the peaceful Minoans and left us with an unexamined legacy of patriarchy and veneration of war and its heroes. These stories are seldom questioned – they have become the essence of western culture and have defined western behavior.
Although scholarly, this book is a fascinating, accessible read.
The next book I encountered was Margaret Atwood’s retelling of parts of the Odyssey, “The Penelopiad.” This book questions the heroic nature of Odeseus and skewers many of the misogynistic underpinnings of his story in relationship to his wife Penelope.
The story is lightly, yet subversively, told. Penelope’s raped/hanged maids serve as a humorous, horrifying chorus.
The final book exploring the stories which have become the bedrock of our culture is “Proverbs of Ashes” by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker.
These two feminist ministers challenged the core beliefs I had unquestioningly assimilated during my strict Catholic upbringing. Through their own life stories and their own intellectual studies, these women bravely take on the issue of what substitutionary redemption really means to our western societies. They argue that Christ’s life is far more important than his death. They ask what sort of loving God would want people to inflict violence in his name. Moreover, they challenge the idea that same loving God is pleased when we accept violence against us as a cross we must bear. Their moving, compelling stories and their courageous confrontation of their most cherished beliefs make this a powerful, touching book.
Completely unplanned, I came across the three examinations of the most unquestioned, universally assimilated tenets of Western society: Greek rationalism, the Old Testament, and the passion of Christ.
Together they delve into why our responses to violence are so conditioned that most of us never question them.
If we are to create a more progressive and peaceful world, we must start challenging our blind acceptance of the stories we have been told and we must create compelling stories of the world we envision. We must embrace the power of stories and challenge the stories of power.
These thoughts and these books have been on my mind lately and I wanted to share them with you. This seems like a perfect time, since Booman has pointed out that we need to help support this sight financially. All three of these books are available through Powell’s. Click on the site from the BT front page. Challenge your preconceptions. Support the wonderful authors, but most importantly help subsidize Booman Tribune. You’ll be glad you did.