Spike – “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of the Beatles.”
Adam – “I have. I like Helter Skelter.”
Spike – “What a surprise. The point is, they were once a real powerful group. It’s not a stretch to say they ruled the world. When they broke up, everybody blamed Yoko. But the fact is, the group split itself up. She just happened to be there.”
Stories, or rather narratives, do in fact rule the world. Want to win an election? Tell the best story. Want to pass a law? Tell the best story. Want to woo women? Tell the best story. The narratives we choose, and how we manipulate and interpret those narratives, help us to convince, cajole and conscript. The narratives we choose drive our decisions, our politics, our moral choices.
Rags to Riches. Manifest Destiny. Britannia Rules the Waves. The Lost (but noble) Cause. The Noble Savage. The Just Goy. The Good Whore. The Predatory Alien. The Girl Who Had It Coming. The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
You know all these stories and their variations. You may or may not be aware when you are being told these stories in order to get you to vote for someone, agree with a law or policy someone wants to get through, choose their product, subscribe to their theology, treat their minority group differently or whether to take mum or dad’s side.
Narratives are always a key part of disagreements. The best narrative gathers most support and wins. But controlling the narrative isn’t just about the specifics of disagreements, but about how we disagree, whether we disagree and what it is we’re disagreeing about. And The Yoko Factor is a brilliant narrative to use to control how disagreements are dealt with and their potential outcomes. You might know this narrative better as “The Scapegoat”. The Scapegoat is an effective tool used to distract and obfuscate, to deter participants from addressing the real issues and to push blame. This not only helps during the disagreement, but helps support and defend the potential outcomes of the disagreement – if it was a negative outcome, “it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t do this, it was ‘Yoko’ “, if a positive outcome, “See, I must be right if I was able to defeat even those awful people”.
And to make this personal… yes, I’ve been felling a definite “Yoko” vibe from certain quarters recently. Both in my own local church and in the wider church there’s definitely been quite a bit of scapegoating lately, very much a “Yoko Factor” being played up and prepared.
In a private internet discussion group we were talking about how to address the loneliness that LGBT folk feel and whether it is right for churches to impose celibacy on people not called to it. As always these discussions go around and around, back and forth and usually pretty nasty things get said about me and people like me (I refuse to cause harm by repeating their bile). So eventually the discussion came around to this. “Why don’t LGBT people just go off and make their own church?” My answer was a rambling exploration of community and belonging and basically opening my hurt at being essentially told to just “go away”; but also that I sadly felt that both in the Anglican church, the wider Universal church and perhaps even my independent home church that a split was inevitable. The quick riposte to this was something along the lines of “If splitting is inevitable, then one has to question the motives of those people [subtext – THE GAYZ!] who are pushing for change.” To entirely miss the motive of a marginalised and historically persecuted group who simply wish to be treated with respect and equality and ascribe to it a sinister bent whose actual intent is to split (and therefore destroy?) the church… yes, I was a tad upset. And this is not a lone attitude, it’s one I see and hear too often, both on the internet and in person – albeit sometimes discovered third hand.
And one of the things that really galls me right now is that it’s not just THE GAYZ who are being painted as the splitters, as the ones motivated to “infiltrate and destroy God’s work through the church” (yes… *sigh*) but anyone who articulates an affirming and inclusive message. If you say even one word in support of including LGBT folk , supporting equal marriage, encouraging LGBT Christians who are in marriages with people who happen to be the same sex in following their calling from God to Lead or Preach – then you become one of “them”. You’re now the “Yoko”, the tool of Satan (again, yes, actual words).
But like with The Beatles, The Church is diverging. We just happen to be there.
The quote at the top of the post comes from the Buffy episode where this idea kind of comes from “The Yoko Factor”. The Scoobies have spent the last year (Series 4) lurching from crisis to crisis and taking their first steps into adulthood, exploring their own identities. It’s been a rocky road and the overall themes across the series have been separation, loneliness and segmentation. And here right at the end of all that comes Spike, Sassy English Vampire, and exploits all the hurt and separation and effectively precipitates a huge fight and they all go their separate ways. He knowingly acts as their “Yoko”, but also knows that he’s not the reason behind their disagreement. It’s jealousy, resentment, rejection, laziness, lack of support and he just “happens to be there.” Thankfully, the Scoobies reconcile in time to beat the Big Bad and save the world. And although the importance of the “mission” is what starts their reconciliation, it’s actually the strength of their underlying love for one another that makes them face the true reasons for the fight and to reconcile. It’s no coincidence that the following season’s theme is Family – and that Family are the people who treat you that way, not just those related by Blood. In season 5 they really do move forward because of this incident in The Yoko Factor to become a true Oikos.
They’re only really able to form this Oikos, this family of choice because of their willingness to reject the Yoko Factor and face the real roots of their disagreements.
This is essential if Christians are in any way going to become the World Saving organisation our founder intended. But I’ll also add that maybe, just maybe going our separate ways isn’t all that bad of an idea. Because the things we’re truly diverging over are foundational to how each of us sees God, how They communicate to us, what Jesus’ mission (and by extension ours) is and how we should relate to each other.
No-one’s motive is to break up a the family of Church, but maybe it isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. The Beatles broke up and what resulted from that was those guys going their separate ways and creating some pretty amazing stuff on their own and in collaboration with others that would never have happened as the Beatles. So come on, both for the good of the Church itself and for those being scapegoated, let’s face up to the fact that we are following increasingly divergent paths ( I mean can you really have a group where some believe in the Sky Bully/Scary Daddy and some in the Gracious All inclusive Most High??) and actually Love our Neighbours by rejecting the Yoko Factor Narrative.
How about instead we embrace the Paul and Barnabas narrative. Accept our differences, graciously go our separate ways, bless each other as we go and work for God’s Kingdom in our own ways. And if blame or consequences need to be directed or faced, let’s leave the already marginalised group out of it, eh?
And because this has been a little bit about Goats, and because I like Goats, and because I want to end on something to make you smile… some of my favourite Goat Pics… (although the middle one might be a lamb.. anyway, it’s cute).
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