(This is the last in a five-part series of posts. To start at the beginning, click here.)
In Controlling the Narrative, Part 4: Solution, we saw how answering “Says who?” makes the power of Paul’s identity solution accessible to us. In this last part, we’ll look at some implications of becoming self-identifying, self-defined controllers of our own narratives.
We who sincerely try to prevent and control our shit know how well it goes: no better than it did for Paul. I’m not implying that we should throw in the towel and stop trying. Paul didn’t; nor was he a passive witness, although he was very much an observer. He considered it all, identified with some of it, and disowned the rest. He chose to be the author. He was not a “sinner saved by grace.” He did not consider himself a sinner at all. He was a “new man,” “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of Good.” He disowned his shit, even though it came from his own body through his own behavior. He identified himself as the lover of Good, the one who served the law of Good with his mind. His shit belonged to the one he rejected, whom he considered dead, cursed, and “crucified with Christ.” Blame Paul for that shit, and you had the wrong guy. “But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it.” As simple as that.
I wonder who realizes that this perspective is even possible, let alone doable? Our choice of identity is a matter of declaration, a naked assertion of life and death — something else they don’t teach in school, Sunday or otherwise. Paul divorced himself — pronounced death over — the one who served the law of sin with his flesh, and clung to — pronounced life over — the one who served the law of Good with his mind. This all happened internally, intentionally, and resolutely — that is, spiritually. It was a spiritual matter. Nothing changed physically (or as Paul would say “according to the flesh”) before he made his choice; but plenty changed afterwards. His choice depended on nothing demonstrable. It didn’t depend on anything at all. Naked choice. I AM.
Our thinking and behavior indicate something, but they don’t define who we are or what our intentions are. Only we can do that. We might do it by means of tacit acceptance, like passive spectators, or we might do it by active choice, defending our conclusions like captains of the soul, but either way we decide what defines us and how the defining gets done. We choose the chooser. If we can allow others to define us, why can’t we choose instead to define ourselves? If we have any choice at all, we have all of it: how to identify ourselves, what to identify with, what we are, what we intend, and what it all means. We can choose before — and after — we act, speak, think, or feel. We can choose before — and after — our constitutions, our personalities, or “natures” are formed. Define or be defined, and according to what: we always choose who controls the narrative, even if we fool ourselves into thinking that we don’t.
Negotiating With Usurpers
If we let something or someone else define us, we do so because we decided to identify ourselves with their claim. The mere fact that something reflects on us negatively does not mean that the reflection is accurate. The mere fact that someone makes a negative claim about us does not mean that the claim holds water. Before we let ourselves get negatively impacted, we decide to connect reflection or claim to ourselves: we identify with it. We don’t have to. That’s a choice that we make, whether we make it reactively like a knee-jerk, as if no room for choice exists, or thoughtfully and deliberately. Instead, we could choose to not identify, rendering reflection and claim irrelevant to us, just like a case of mistaken identity. If it wasn’t us, it doesn’t apply to us, and it says nothing about us.
This isn’t something radical and foreign. In fact, we do it regularly, whether sincerely or in false modesty, every time we refuse to accept a compliment or refuse to accept culpability. In essence, we say just what Paul did: No, it wasn’t me! We do it with compliments and complaints; why be shy about our own shit or goodness? Apart from our choice to identify with it, none of it defines us or reflects on us — not shit nor goodness nor anything in between. Before anything can define or reflect on us, before anyone has anything to say about us, we decide who says by choosing what we identify with. We declare, “That was me,” or, “That was not me,” even if we’re reacting to someone who says, “That was you!” Just because they said it doesn’t make it so or rob us of our capacity to choose whether it’s relevant in the first place. If it wasn’t us, it clearly applies to someone else, no matter what they say. On that point, we choose who says, and we always have the final say.
Jesus often talked about death and life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) Churchianity has used sayings like that to promote intimidated, subservient sacrifice for thousands of years. It’s bullshit. I intend to reclaim Jesus’ teachings from the psychopaths who corrupted them. Even if you happen to object to the idea of a literal resurrection, the crux of the story of Jesus is that life emerges out of death. Life is a very different outcome than chronic dependency on your healers, which is the “gospel” that Churchianity has long promoted. Life emerging from death — not some kind of “life” that escapes or avoids death — bears the “fruit” that Jesus promised.
Skip death and the grain of wheat “remains alone.” Impotent. Unproductive. Barren. Just like Churchianity is with respect to real power, the kind that Jesus promised and the early church experienced. And death isn’t as scary as it sounds, because we don’t “die.” Churchianity’s “experts” should know this, and they should have taught us this, but they didn’t. Only the shit we hate and that we disowned and discarded, along with the mind-sets and motivations behind them, only that “dies.” Therapists will recognize this as the key step that patients must take to turn from dysfunctional modes of thought and behavior towards healthy, constructive modes. They must let go of their lifelines and discard their safety nets, because they’ve gotten entangled and are choking to death. Letting go — death — feels like being cast adrift without boat or jacket, or like free fall into a dark abyss, but it isn’t. I don’t know what psychology calls that turning point, but John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles called it repentance.
That’s not what you learned in Sunday School or from the pulpit, either. The “repentance” that you learned was defined behaviorally, visibly, in terms that hypocrites and psychopaths can understand and manipulate. Jesus looked at it differently: inside-out, not outside-in. That was Jesus’ sequence, and it isn’t mystical or alien like Churchianity loves to claim. It’s mystical and alien to them because it makes no sense to hypocrites. Even psychologists understand it. Jesus’ emphasis on death first, then life distinguishes his views from many other great spiritual minds. As a species, we seem bent on getting that sequence backwards, much like we do inner and outer, much like therapy patients before the turning point. Not only do we want life before death, we insist on securing evidence of life, i.e., “fruit,” before we’ll let ourselves believe that we’re alive. We demand proof of Good and goodness before we’ll let ourselves believe that we or anyone else is good. That’s a hypocrites’ prioritization. Jesus flipped it top to bottom and front to rear.
Flip and Turn
Why are we so prone to get it backwards, unless of course we’re right and Jesus got it backwards? Do we not know our own hearts without seeing outside evidence? Do we need someone else to tell us who we are, or do we need external validation before we can be sure? Practically speaking, judging by our norms of behavior, our motivations, and our mental and emotional reinforcements that preserve those norms, (let alone the societal reinforcements that preserve them,) that’s exactly what we think we need. When it comes to self-identification, we’re like the proverbial blind men telling each other what an elephant feels like, except that we ask the elephant to tell us what we feel like to it, and then we take its word for it.
I think that, if we were being honest, we would admit that we chronically get it backwards, abdicating our right of authorship to others, allowing forces “bigger than we are” and “beyond our control” to define and limit who we think we are, just like abuse victims do. In fact, we let them define and limit not just who we are, but who we can become.
The good news is that we don’t have to accept other narratives, and that we can pick up the pen anytime, keep hold of it, and start writing our own. That’s a real “gospel” that you can sink some teeth into.
— from Burrington, Somerset, England