Monday, August 19, 2013

[single stories]

There often seems to be an aversion to hearing the stories of others. I'm not referring to hearing the stories of a poor widow in the Sudan, of a homeless family in Toronto, of our friend's weekend camping adventure. No, our aversion is to the stories of those whom we dislike and whom we often despise, those whom we see as being sinful and out of line, those whom we see as being beyond hope or unregenerate.

We like to hear one side of the story. It keeps things nice and tidy for us; it avoids disrupting our world.

But it is narrow and limited. And it negatively impacts those whose stories are not being told.

Richard Beck, in his review of Michael McRay's Letters from Apartheid Street, refers to these single stories and how hearing the other stories – or, to put it differently, the stories of others – counters the effects of the single story:
Reversing the dynamics of dehumanization, Michael describes this as a process of rehumanization (pp. 25-26):

...the danger of the single story. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie warns of the danger of single stories--that is, stories which depict only one side to a person or event. Such stories, when repeated often, convince the audience that the description within the story is the whole truth...

 ...I must confess...I have a single story of soldiers...

 ...I want to take seriously Jesus's call to love my enemies...[But without] another story to add to the original, though, I cannot create a fabric of humanity in which to clothe them. I have needed a story to re-humanize the Israeli soldiers occupying this land...
Michael finds this second story in conversations he seeks out and recounts with some of the Israeli soldiers. It's a wonderful example of how you, practically, go about learning to love your enemies.
From, (quoting from Letters from Apartheid Street: A Christian Peacemaker in Occupied Palestine by Michael McRay. Emphasis added.)

I remember when listening committees started to be in vogue in the 1980's. The goal of these committees was to listen to the voices of those outside of the heterosexual mainstream. My church never had a listening committee and, as far as I know, never considered having one.

But when I heard of other churches -- more liberal churches, often -- starting up such listening committees, my response was: "I'm good with gay people being in our church, but why do they have to tell their stories?"

listening committee cartoon by rob g

I just didn't get it, and it took a long time until I understood the importance of listening to the voices of men and women who are in the minorities, at the margins, on the outside. And yet it is critical to do so.

Not only is our human village made up of many people, but so is the body of Christ. We need one another. We need one another's perspectives and gifts and richness. And we each need to be heard, to be validated, to be embraced. We need to move beyond single stories and dominant voices, in order to hear the whole truth, in order to rehumanize others so that we see them as the children of God they are, and in order that the body of Christ may become what it is meant to be.

The single story told in so many churches is that of majority Christians. We need the stories of minority Christians to give us a fuller picture of what the church is and of what it means to be human.

Looking for more?
Read books and blogs by people who have a significantly different perspective or background.

If you want to understand the importance of telling one's story in a different context, the novel and movie "The Help" makes this point very well.

Read Christena Cleveland's article Killing Me Softly: On Privilege and Voice.

Watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Danger of a Single Story.

Read Rachel Held Evans' Homosexuality, Evangelicalism, and The Danger of a Single Story.

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