Raising two sons is one of the most challenging tasks I have ever undertaken.  Definitely rewarding, but certainly a task for the stout-hearted.

There is nothing I want more than for my sons to walk in the way of faith I have taught them.  I believe their devotion to God will contribute more to their future happiness than education, career, power, love, or money.  I certainly want them to make wise decisions about each of these too, but the love of a woman without the acceptance of God is ultimately meaningless.  A good job with no greater purpose for the work of one’s hands is ultimately unrewarding.  What education about true life is complete without an awareness of the Creator?  I want my boys to walk in the way of Jesus.

Hence, the “competing stories” for life pose a great threat to all I am working for in my family (and in my ministry, but that is another topic entirely).  These other “metanarratives” offer a way of seeing and living life that I do not believe are anchoring in truth and, therefore, do not lead in the best way to the Author of Truth and to the kind of life that He engineered to be fulfilling.

What are some of those “competing stories,” at least in my American context?

The Power Metanarrative:  The ability to control one’s own life is the supreme value. Be strong enough to bring your will to pass in your world.  Through skill, hard work, intimidation, or pure monopoly rise to the top and dominate, maybe nicely, but be the top dog, for sure.

The Work Metanarative:  You are what you do.  You are defined by your work and you are only worth what your work is worth.  You must be a self-made man.  True reward is found in what you can produce with your own two hands.  Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

The Pleasure Metanarrative:  Happiness is found in the high that comes from satisfying one’s desires.  Those may be physical desires for sex or food or comfort.  Those may be emotional desires for acceptance or ego-stroking.  You are happiest when you feel good and feel good about yourself.

The Materialistic Metanarrative:  The truest realities are material, so gather as much as possible.  It seems this life is all we have because anything else is hard to prove materially, so end this life with the greatest number of toys.  Money helps, so stay in school, work hard, and do whatever is necessary to increase the flow of capital into your life.

The Romance Metanarrative:  There is no feeling more satisfying that the love of another person.  Find your “soul-mate” and you will find fulfillment.  The greatest curse is to be alone.  Your worth is determined by your lover.  Your soul is completed by another.

I am sure there are others.  These are the one’s that fit me first.  Of course, there is truth hidden in each of these, as corrupted as each has now become.  Love is a divine virtue.  We are material people in a material world.  We have work to do on this planet.  Pleasure does feel good.  Free people need the ability to self-govern.  The issue comes when each of these are elevated to such a level that they themselves become our sources of meaning, our avenues for fulfillment, really, our gods.

I want more for my boys.  There is no greater love than that found in God.  Our souls were made by God and He holds the key to true fulfillment.  Productive work is just a way to worship God.  Physical and emotional pleasures fade long before the pleasure of God’s acceptance.  God is best qualified to hold the keys of power.  Life lived in submission to God and service to others: this is what I want for my sons.  So the “competing stories” of our culture concern me as I prepare them to understand these stories as counterfeit narratives that offer false “happy endings.”

It would appear this is the same motivation a wise man named Luqman had so many years ago.  According to translator Ali, little is known of Luqman for sure.  His wisdom is so storied that a whole tradition of wise saying has arisen around him, not unlike Aesop.  Luqman is also thought to have lived a long time.  What is clear from this passage is Luqman’s desire for his son to walk in the ways of God and to be careful of people who tell “distracting tales” intended to lead him away from “God’s way” (31:6).  Today’s surah is largely the recounting of the counsel of Luqman to his son.

Keep up the prayer, my son; command what is right; forbid what is wrong; bear anything that happens to you steadfastly: these are things to be aspired to. (31:17)

Fathers — back then or today — want the same for our sons: devotion to God in a world of competing stories.

I am interested to know what a modern-day, orthodox, spiritual Muslim would say are the “competing stories” of this world?  What metanarratives are being offered up to us and our children that work against all that the Qur’an is working for?

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