In the early 1990s, a friend introduced me to a magazine called In Context. The subtitle was A Quarterly of Humane Sustainable Culture. I have kept the copies I purchased in those years because each themed issue was full of interesting articles, inspiring projects and people. Some of the articles were written by authors who are well known today: Joanna Macy, David C. Korten, Donella Meadows, Vicky Robin. The editor and publisher was a man named Robert Gilman, an astrophysicist from Bainbridge Island, WA. My friend who subscribed to the magazine also photocopied an earlier issue for me, from Winter 1985/86. The theme that year was The New Story, From a Planetary Perspective. It opened with a 1978 quote from ecotheologian, Thomas Berry:
It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we are in-between stories. The Old Story – the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it – sustained us for a long time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purpose, energized action, consecrated suffering, integrated knowledge, and guided education. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children. But now it is no longer functioning properly, and we have not yet learned the New Story.
In the introductory article, Gilman recounts his journey from astrophysicist to storyteller. Through that journey he came to understand how our old story broke down, that it had become a “three-way ideological war” between culture, science and religion. Gilman believes that the new story must honor “the essence in each side, while in its synthesis, it transcends them.” In the next article he tells the cosmic story, how the universe began. Brian Swimme, then helps us see the spiritual meaning in the cosmic story with an excerpt from his book The Universe is a Green Dragon. Each article, including an interview with Joseph Campbell, tells another part of the new story framework, which, according to Gilman, “must be a living and empowering thing, a broad and embracing framework that liberates our human energy by focusing us in fruitful directions. It cannot be as narrow or specific as a sectarian dogma or a particular ideology. Rather, it needs to fit so naturally with us that much of it will seem like little more than “common sense.”
I was reminded of this magazine (no longer in print, but all articles are available on this website), when I attended a very inspiring talk last week at UBC. It was called the “The Greening of the Self: A Story Whose Time Has Come.” The title was inspired by Joanna Macy, who encourages us to recognize that we are an integral part of a larger, more complex and interconnected system. The talk was facilitated by Rick Ingrasci, an M.D. with a background in psychiatry and holistic medicine.
Ingrasci was the brains behind the Whidbey GeoDome, now called the StoryDome, a mobile dome theatre. The StoryDome team produced the interactive show: EARTH PORTAL: A Guided Tour of the Universe and Our Place in It. The show ran for six months at the Seattle Centre Foundation during the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.
Ingrasci is one of the many people who have been telling new stories for a long time now. He co-authored Chop Wood, Carry Water: A Guide to Finding Spiritual Fulfillment in Everyday Life and was one of the founders of Hollyhock, where he has been convening a summer gathering at Hollyhock Summer since 1986. He studied under Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome.
The StoryDome is an an inflatable geodesic dome and unique storytelling device. Once inside you are surrounded by breathtaking images, thanks to the latest digital technology. The team has developed a variety of educational applications for big events like the Seattle celebration, but also designs customized programs for community events, schools, businesses and conferences. No matter the topic, astronomy, biology, mathematics, earth science, watersheds, mythology, psychology, economics, the experience is said to be transformative. The tag line for the dome is: Inspiring Social Change Through Experiences of Awe and Wonder.
As I leaned against the backrest inside the StoryDome watching the galaxies float by, I did have a sense of being in a space capsule, immersed in the universe. It was very relaxing too, the woman beside me fell asleep. I was aware of being a storyteller myself and grateful for all of the storytellers who came before me. Even those who are no longer with us are still inspiring, still present in the innovation and effort to create a believable and empowering story for our times.