Unravelling a Narrative

OK, how many of us have ever pulled a loose thread? You know, the one at the edge of a tablecloth, or in the hob-nail pattern on a cotton bedspread (chenille especially). The one our parents told us not to touch? Or the one that suddenly appeared on the hem of a pant cuff of skirt, or on a sweater? Yeah, just hanging there, one little loose thread. Why not pull it? Nothing’s going to happen, right? I just heard a half-dozen people groaning because you know exactly what’s going to happen. The great unravelling ensues, as the pattern on the bedspread disappears, the skirt hem drops, or half the sweater cuff disappears, leaving you with a long piece of yarn and a desperate need for someone else to blame. Or so I’m told.

Those of us who pull at strings just can’t leave well enough alone. And It’s not just sweaters that get unravelled. Other people’s stories come apart as we pull at a plot thread. (Which is probably what half of all mystery novels are about, after all. Colombo being one of the classic examples). “There I was” accounts taper off when we walk up to the bar for a refill, because we’ve been known to unravel those, too. And sometimes we inadvertently, or with malice aforethought, take narratives apart.

The senior minister at the house of worship I currently attend pulled a narrative string apart a few weeks ago. It seems that the US State Department’s insistence that 1) people who call themselves Islamist are not, in fact, followers of Islam and 2) that no one is targeting Christians and Jews for murder because of their/our beliefs were too much for him. So after the text (Nehemiah 5), he pulled that string. Forget Islamophobia, quit saying that men who specifically target Jewish delis and announce of social media that they are going to kill Jews were, in fact, not out to specifically kill Jews. Call things by their proper name and do what you can to say “no more.” He could no longer tolerate that loose thread hanging from the US government’s narrative and he pulled it. And when he did, the narrative of “Islamists are not motivated by Islam” unravelled.

To my knowledge there are a handful of us at this place of worship that have been following the situation in the Middle East, Pakistan, and other places since 2001 and who are familiar with all the major players currently active. But there are also a large number of people who lost any unalloyed trust in the federal government’s pronouncements some time ago, for varying reasons. We cover the spectrum from social democrat to libertarian, and politics is an area the congregation tends to avoid for that very reason. But even the borderline stateists cast wary eyes on the federal government when it comes to grand, sweeping pronouncements about what other people think and believe. And the sense from the group, after the senior preacher stopped speaking, was relief. Someone had finally said it. Someone had said what a goodly number of us were thinking. And had said we were not nuts, or haters, or mean-spirited. And it is OK to stand up and do what ever you can to help those who are fighting back against evil and terrorism.

You can only leave so many threads dangling before something bad happens to the fabric. Even without people pulling on the string that is waving oh-so-temptingly in the little breeze. And the Narrative about Islamists not following Islam, and not being Moslem, is falling apart. Threads are working loose despite all the best efforts to smack any hands that dare to reach out and pull the string.

As a historian, a chunk of what I do is pick at threads. I found a couple in a textbook that left me aching to yank them out, in front of the students, and unravel the Narrative of the racist, imperialist, greedy US taking over Hawaii and the Philippines because it was a white-man thing to do. Because everything the US did in Latin America and the rest of the world was bad because we should have known better back then and the government ignored the people who knew better. OK, so there was a little problem with the British and Germans threatening certain South American countries and the US stepping in to chase them away. But United Fruit! Puerto Rico! Racism! Nary a mention about culture, nothing about why people might have thought that having our own filling stations in the Pacific were important for trade, or about the Moslem rebellion in the Philippines. The line about how the US should have stayed out of the Far East because we learned the hard way in WWII just, grrr. I wanted to grab that string and yank. And the stuff about the American West and the South in the period 1870-1900? Grrrrr. I caught some errors of fact and a strong anti-Anglo-American Narrative.

Oh, and the immigrants who settled in the tenement houses in NYC? Nothing about how they moved out as soon as they could afford to, or how the “reforms” after Jacob Riis’s book came out left so many people homeless and in other cases encouraged do-gooders to take children from their widowed mothers because the mothers were working as well as raising the kids. And The Jungle did not exaggerate the conditions in the packing plants. (Note: if your customers die from your product, you will go out of business right soon.) My fingers twitched from repressing the desire to pull that string. But doing so might screw up the students grades, since I did not know how closely the teacher was sticking to the book. So I left it dangling.

If you see a loose thread in the Narrative, pull it.

 

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2 thoughts on “Unravelling a Narrative

  1. I applaud your preacher, mine gave a similar sermon a few weeks ago. He usually steers very clear of politics (which I think is a decidedly good thing) but as he pointed out, he was not giving a sermon on politics, but on religion, and if certain politicians told blatant lies that become obvious lies as soon as one glances at the truth; well that didn’t obligate him keep quiet and not speak the truth.

    • I’m starting to wonder if the Anointeds’ response to the deaths of the group of Copts (the men that I’ve heard some Catholics calling the Martyrs of Tripoli) was the tipping point for a number of religious leaders.

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