Due to the constant prodding of a friend, my wife and I finally got around to watching “Nanette”, the Netflix stand-up show of comedian Hannah Gadsby. If you haven’t seen it, you need to catch it. What a performance! She had us rolling in laughter, in between a river of tears. You see, the power of Hannah’s content didn’t just lie in the brilliance of her ability to write sketches from the place of abstraction. The strength of her art directly came from the flesh-and-blood story of her life, and mostly from her pain.
Hannah is a lesbian. She was raised in Tasmania, an island state of Australia, where it was illegal to come out as gay in the 80‘s. Now, off the bat, this article isn’t about a theological discourse on homosexuality. This is about the ability of someone’s story to mirror a version of our own, specifically in the way pain and trauma shape who we are.
Here’s a section where she talks about the way she used comedy to cope with suffering, inadvertently immortalizing her pain to make it the only narrative that defined her:
I think part of my problem is comedy has suspended me in a perpetual state of adolescence. The way I’ve been telling that story is through jokes. And stories… unlike jokes, need three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Jokes only need two parts. A beginning and a middle. And what I had done, with that comedy show about coming out, was I froze an incredibly formative experience at its trauma point and I sealed it off into jokes. And that story became a routine, and through repetition, that joke version fused with my actual memory of what happened. But unfortunately, that joke version was not nearly sophisticated enough to help me undo the damage done to me in reality. Punch lines need trauma because punch lines… need tension. And tension feeds trauma.
As I reflected on her words, I found that I, too, have pulled certain moments from the overall context of my life and enshrined them as the primary source of truths that inform me. To be fair, not all moments in one’s life are created equal. Our pain, failures, and disappointment are one of the only things we can truly call our own. But if we are not careful, our pain can become our gods, and what a dreadful thing it is to worship at their feet. What should then be only a part of the story can become the whole narrative.
Here, the story of the scriptures definitely agrees with Hannah. Stories have more than two acts. In fact, the story of the Bible runs exactly as she proposes: Three major parts in the name of Creation, Fall and Redemption.
As a Christian, and one who looks to the narrative of the scriptures to inform my personal story, I find that it is easy for me to forget that the Gospel, which literally means good news, runs on three acts and not two. As I think of my journey, and I’m not sure why, but I find that I have a tendency to gloss over the Creation story, without realizing the damage I was doing to the whole narrative of the scriptures. It has inadvertently shaped the way I view my own story.
You see, Act two, better known as “the Fall”, is so powerful in that it is the part of the story that seems to best interpret life on planet Earth. The fall is the place where things take a quick dark turn, the place where deceit wins, where our weakness and the worst of who we are rises to the occasion and takes center stage. The fall is the point of the fracture we feel and are so acquainted with. It is where dreams die, and the connection to everything beautiful, that which makes us feel alive, seems forever lost. It is the dysfunction, the disease, the suffering, and the emptiness that plagues us. Whether perpetrator or victim, no one ever comes out of Act Two intact; everyone is severely and profoundly broken.
The force of Act Two is so strong, that it becomes the only thing we remember. As a matter of fact, it becomes the new starting point from where we tell our own stories. In our memories, it exists as the new defining moment, the new Act One.
And while “the Fall” thankfully isn’t the final act, with the original Act One of the story missing, whatever beauty or hope that the final chapter might bring will easily be viewed with suspicion because it has lost its original connection to the plot that establishes the basis for future glory to be true.
The original Act One that often gets buried is Creation. And what an awesome chapter it is.
You see, if you start from the true beginning, you’ll find that the story, our story, originates from a glorious dream. Genesis one depicts a world birthed as the creative expression of a good God who can’t help but bless everything He makes. And this goodness, this joy, this creative energy is too beautiful to not share. So God, from the place of love, created humanity to steward and enjoy all that he made. The true version of Act One is the idea that We are made from love, by love and for love, with love as the trajectory of our destiny.
And while Act Two is sure to come, and yes, while Act Two is so hideous that we can’t get ourselves to imagine how anything good can ever emerge from the gunk, keeping a finger on the pages of Act One might help us remember that the God of the Origin Story is an expert at making beautiful things rise from chaos.
And then, when Act Three rolls around, this chapter we call “Redemption” you can trust that it isn’t a fluke. It does not come to us on flimsy stilts, rather it comes with the kind of integrity that allows us to abandon ourselves fully to a better story, one that couldn’t be told without the Fall. But a far more glorious story than we could have forecasted from the beginning.
I thank God for Hannah’s story. Her courage inspires to me look within and confront the ways I’ve locked myself into “The Fall” chapters of my own story, making me distrust the blatantly good things that are present in my life. Her story makes me want to reach back to the past, to the time before The Fall, to the place of wide-eyed wonder where I believed that anything was possible. And yes, she makes me want to revisit the place where I fell, where I sold out, where I was dealt a lousy hand. For this isn’t about denying that Act Two never happened, it is about holding it less tightly, with hands and hearts a little more open to receiving a new chapter—the ongoing chapter called Redemption.
I pray for myself, and I pray for all of us, that we be given the grace to embrace our fully story. And that we would live from a place of trust, knowing that these unwritten pages belong to the One who makes all things new.