Mythmaking and missional leadership

/ 20 October 2008

Here’s a really interesting reflection on our desire for myths that lead towards hope and empowerment. The author is pointing toward many of the themes that religious faith offers — without once noting such resonance — but also stressing the place of agency, and the “unreality” people feel with regards to collective agency. Yet that’s precisely what the communality of religious community (at least within Trinitarian versions of Christianity) affirms.

More's the point, in the real world a single hero, however brave and resourceful, usually can't tackle those forces and win. A true crime story usually has no primary 'hero.' Anything more serious than a petty crime will likely be investigated by a team of detectives, uniformed officers, and forensics technicians, and later (or even at the time) a team of prosecutors. And when it comes to a truly big crime - Watergate, Enron, Abu Ghraib - the cast swells to hundreds if not thousands.

But teams make poor mythic heroes. We usually imagine ourselves facing the world alone, and we want myths where a single hero can overcome. We want a lone hero like John McClane or Jack Ryan, or at most two buddies or a romantic pair. This was a major risk Jackson faced with Lord of the Rings. Tolkein's myth featured several heroes acting together. Jackson intentionally made the first film "Frodo-centric," in his own words - dropping entire passages from the book where Frodo was not the lead - so the audience could identify with a single hero. Only in the second and third films did Jackson allow Tolkein's other characters to perform truly heroic actions independent of Frodo.

So how do we begin to reimagine, relive, renew the experience of communal, collective, participatory, shared agency? THAT'S the issue I believe missional leadership needs to lead towards!