Commentary: God should be the protagonist

By Alyce McKenzie, Special Contributor…

I am teaching a course on preaching and storytelling at Perkins School of Theology this spring. Every Tuesday afternoon, 12 of us gather to hear stories, tell stories and reflect on why they are so powerful and how they function in our lives. We’re shaping an understanding of Christian preaching as placing our life stories in the context of a larger story with a better preface and a whole lot better ending that the shrunken, shriveled stories we’re currently writing by ourselves.

Alyce McKenzie

As one of the required books, I am having students read The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall. It’s getting rave reviews from students.  The book shows in example after example how we humans have a “pattern hunger” – we vigilantly observe disparate events of daily life, trolling for stories.

Dr. Gottschall cites  psychologist Michele Crossley who believes that much human inner misery stems from an “incoherent story,” an “inadequate narrative account of oneself,”  ”a life story gone awry.”  Healing lies in finding a story we can live with. Dr. Crossley believes that psychotherapists act as script doctors who help people revise their life stories so that they can play the role of protagonists againsuffering and flawed protagonists, to be sure, but protagonists who are moving toward the light.

I understand the importance of feeling in control, of being a protagonist moving in a positive direction, but spiritual directors and pastors help people ask continually “Where is God in my life right now, in this situation?” Healing of “inadequate narrative accounts of ourselves” happens when we realize that we are supporting actors in a film in which God is the protagonist. That is the most adequate life story of all. God’s story is a story we can live with and that lives within us in this season of Lent.

Most of us view ourselves as the protagonist in our own life story and God as a supporting actor. We need to flip the pancake. God is the protagonist and we are supporting actors. That takes a lot of the pressure off and still leaves us with a good story to live in and to live into.

The Rev. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology. This column is adapted by permission from a post at her blog, Knack for Noticing,

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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