A major theme that keeps coming up in my Lay Institute class is the concept of how our narrative shapes how we see the world. We understand everything within the context of the stories we tell ourselves about how the world works, how we ought to be.
For the past several weeks within that class, I’ve been telling the narrative of science. The history behind many scientific discoveries, how science and scientists think of themselves and their goals, how science works. Last Monday I had my father skype in for an interview, and he spent part of it telling the stories of geology, but mostly telling his own story. Telling his experiences within geology and within the church, and how those stories shaped him into who he was. With my permission, he also told the class stories about me, so they could see where I came from and what shaped me into the person sitting in that class, teaching in the way I do.
One of the great things about teaching here in the Philippines is that I don’t have to explain why stories are important, why what we tell ourselves about the world matters in how we see things. Everyone in my Lay Institute class gets that, gets the importance of story in telling truths. They’re just as likely to say that the only way to tell real truths is to tell the story behind it, and I can’t disagree there.
Our Lay Institute classes tend to run long, and to wander into discussions far afield of the original topics as we pursue those stories. Often it brings us to surprising commonalities, moments of shared traditions between two cultures. A discussion of Darwinian concepts of evolution turned into thoughts on immigration in the US, and into a history of the Irish immigration in particular, and from there into the similarities in how the Irish were viewed at that time and how Filipinos are viewed today, the parallels and repetitions only strengthening the truths we found.
Over the course of this next week I’ll have to write a mid-term test to track what we have taught. But how do I turn the brilliant, dynamic discussions we’ve held into something semi-objective? No attempt I can come up with will truly track what has been learned here. I don’t even know for certain everything that I’ve learned in the course of teaching. But that in itself is its own gift: this class experience will never be summed up in a test and an outline of our course objectives. It has already succeeded in its true goal of making us all think differently. And the only way to describe that change? Is in the stories we will tell from this point onwards.