Over the past few months I have constantly been confronted by the power of personal narrative. I have been greatly moved by hearing others share their stories, whether it be through film, in written form, or by conversation. As a Christian, the importance of narrative is not an unfamiliar topic. The single most common form of writing in the Bible is narrative writing or narrative history. Narrative, a.k.a. story telling, is a powerful learning tool and also a powerful connecting tool. A story is the shortest distance between people.
Our stories are often what connect us as Christians. For example, we share our personal stories of how we came to the faith; our personal stories of our trials and tribulations; and our personal stories of how Christ has impacted our lives. All of these serve to strengthen our bond as the body of Christ. Jesus's prayer is that the Church is, "one as He and the Father are one." However, it is not just the Church, but all of humanity that we must commit to loving as ourselves.
Two thousand years after Christ and we still have yet to get this right. We have gone back to creating barriers between one another that Jesus spent a lifetime tearing down. These barriers are not only evident in society, but also in the church where we still deal with issues such as racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia within the nearly 40,000 denominations that currently exist worldwide.
It has been my experience that the people who harbor the most prejudiced and biased views toward another group of people have never spent much time around those people or engaged the story of that group. They exist to them only in the abstract. When we allow ourselves to turn entire people groups into abstract beings it becomes much easier to absorb the negative stereotypes and caricatures that are given to us. A good example of this is the controversy surrounding the name of the Washington professional football team. Many people have never met a Native American person. They exist to the general public as mere sporting mascots and for decades we have paraded and celebrated several offensive and hurtful slurs that serve to further remove them from the fabric of this nation and to uphold and promote colonial and imperialistic mentalities.
In this country, we allow the dominant narrative to inform us about marginalized and oppressed groups of people far too often. What that means is that the way the dominant culture views the marginalized and oppressed in society is what becomes reinforced through the news, the film industry, and all the other mediums in which we receive information.
"If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people."
Telling our stories is vital to our humanity and dignity. Sharing our stories with one another is perhaps the greatest device we have to destroy the barriers that have been created and sustained throughout history. That is why the executors of systemic oppression wish to co-opt the stories of the marginalized and oppressed and control the way in which their stories are told. There is undeniable power in our stories.
When we share our stories we allow for others to share in our experiences. Christena Cleveland, in her book Disunity in Christ, writes, "Research shows that sharing an experience with another person---sometimes called 'I-sharing'---causes people to feel a profound sense of connection with others, even others who are otherwise dissimilar." Research also suggests that people accept ideas more readily when their minds are in story mode as opposed to when they are in an analytical mind-set.
I was moved by hearing other people share their stories because in their struggle, I saw my struggle; in their despair, I felt my own despair; in their cries, I heard my own cries. Our humanity is bound up in one another. We can not afford to silence the voices of our neighbors. God has called us to create a community where our differences are celebrated, not used to vilify one another.