Share your story. Change the world.

I am a small-time writer with a small-time blog, but recently I posted a piece that got really big really fast. I had been scared to post it. I was scared because it was personal. I was scared because it was political.

I posted it anyway, thinking “well, it won’t make much difference anyway. It’s just my little story,” but I could not have been more wrong. People responded to my story with comment after comment and email after email about how hearing an individual’s story had helped theme to see “the other side” of the debate for the first time, how the personal had cut through the rhetoric. My story encouraged others in turn to write and tell me their stories of how they have suffered under immigration laws. Hearing my story apparently opened up compassion in people who had not ever thought compassionately on the topic before. Sharing my story put a social justice issue on people’s hearts in a way that it had not been before.

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Story telling has great power to effect change – great change – far beyond what politics or philosophy could possibly do. I think stories are powerful for three reasons in particular:

1. Stories are disarming.

In a world where opinions are thrown at us day in and day out, our natural tendency

is to keep ourselves braced against the onslaught of ideas and words. We read the news with our defenses at the ready. We listen to speeches with our BS-meters finely tuned.

A story, however, does not demand our attention or allegiance. It is an offering of one person’s life and point of view: it does not threaten, it does not demand change. It simply tells. Our generation values being heard, and so when people speak from the heart – we listen. A story can reach the places of the heart, places we generally keep shielded from politicians and activists.

 

  1. Stories cut through bias.

Our natural tendency is to sort people into categories: like us, and not like us. Our inherent bias finds it easy to regard those in our camp as being individuals, unique and distinct. On the flipside of that coin, we tend to believe that all those “in that camp” are all one way. We make these generalizations because it helps us sort through issues of identity, it is our natural sorting hat for classifying, understanding and articulating difference in the world. However, the dangerous side of our natural coping mechanism is that we always carry a set of beliefs about what “they” are like.

The power of the story of just one person is that it breaks open the “they” category, and reminds us of all the individuals in “that camp”. It allows us to feel compassion and empathy for those who are “not like us”, because for the first time the story reminds us that in some way, that person is a lot like us.

3. Stories allow us to choose our response.

In their ground-breaking book “Half the Sky”, Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn challenged readers to respond to three specific social justice issues which affect women world wide. They had an armory of statistics and facts at their disposal, yet they chose to make their appeal by telling specific stories about individual women impacted by each plight.

Our brains cannot process facts like “there are 2 million sex slaves in the world right now”. We can, however, hear and understand the story of Suryesh, kidnapped from her family at 10, beaten by thugs and raped repeatedly each day until she submitted to the brothel owner. Big campaigns and huge numbers overwhelm us. We become immobilized by the enormity of the task, and change seems impossible. However, the story of one gives us a non-threatened space to respond: I cannot save 2 million, but I can make a difference to Suryesh.

Stories have the power to reach and to mobilize people far beyond the reach of politicians and power-mongers. In the quest for social justice then, here are two very powerful things you can do:

 

First: Share Your Story

The personal is political. If you have a story to tell, be brave and tell it. Tell your story of how your friend’s family got deported. Tell the story about the high school kids you work with and the things they go through. Tell your story about the poverty you’ve seen, the prejudices you’ve suffered, the abortion you went through. Share your story of loss, of mistakes made, of learning to hope through adversity. There is healing in the telling, and there is also healing for the hearers. Sharing your thoughts, your fears, your hurts can do far more to reach hearts than you might imagine.

 

Second: Share Someone Else’s Story.

By “share” here I don’t mean tell someone else’s secrets, I mean “share” in the internet sense of the word. I have a few dozen readers of my blog, a relatively small group of people who could hear my story. What made the story BIG was not so much my sharing, but that readers shared the story again and again. Every “like”, every “tweet”, every link emailed across the globe passed the story further and further. I shared my story with 200 people. A week later, it had been read by thousands.

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Social media (used well) can allow us to do impactful work for for building bridges, for bringing understanding, for furthering social justice. Every click of a mouse sends a story’s ripple a little further into the pond, and allows that story to do it’s disarming, awareness-raising, compassion-building, change-bringing work.

Of course, the power of stories should not come as a surprise to us. The Great Storyteller Himself chose stories to teach, to rebuke, to illustrate, to challenge. He chose the gospels, four stories of His life, to be the means by which we see the face of the eternal and invisible God. And he chose us to tell His story, a story which, once heard, shapes people’s eternal destinies.

Share a story. Change the world.

 

You might also like this story: The pair at the door….

15 thoughts on “Share your story. Change the world.

  1. You know how much I agree with this, so not much for me to say here! I’m really glad you posted your immigration story, and I’m thrilled it touched so many people! Keep sharing. 🙂

    • Thanks, MBB 🙂 in some ways, sharing it with the world was the easy part. Sharing it with those close to me felt much harder, even though I feel so well loved at church.

  2. There is a reason I combined English and History in college! I understood History through the stories of the people that lived it, and I understood the stories by looking at them through the scope of History. Stories have been an amazing tool in my teaching, and I always encourage my students to tell their stories for this very reason! I admire you so much for having the courage to share your story in such a public forum. I am glad to know it is making an impact on so many beyond those of us you encourage regularly 🙂

    • I LOVED history teachers who brought things to life by telling stories 🙂 I can imagine you being exactly one of those super inspirational teachers like the ones I loved at school.

    • Thank you, Danika! One of the things I am enjoying so much about the blogging world is getting to know people through their writing: people I would never otherwise have met but I’m so glad I have “met” now! 🙂

  3. Wonderful post! Thanks to the influence of a former pastor who preached the only sermon series on the parables that made sense to me in my 40+ years in the Kingdom–this is my priority when engaging conversations with new people. “Tell me your story”, or “Why are you interested in…”. Listening to someone’s story, paying particular attention to what they think is important in their lives is such a strong validation in invitation to them. And it opens the door to tell our own.

    Conversation, rather than interrogation, if you will. I am not a fan of paraphrases, but one verse I would restate is this: God was in Christ inviting the world into a conversation with Himself. Authentic conversation is the ultimate gift of value we offer; that God is interested in people’s thoughts and lives, their interests–the expression of Common Grace.

    You engage others in your writing; what a gift! When I referred earlier to the sermon series on the parables, the approach taken by my pastor was an emphasis on the character of the interaction between the listeners and Jesus. Before this series, I loved Jesus; thankful for who He is, what He did for me, for humanity. After the series, I liked Jesus–and understood better why sinners were drawn to Him. I am a novice at conversation, even in my late 50’s; but I have been blessed with good models, both biblically and those who walk out grace with me. Perhaps the best argument as to the importance of Christian fellowship.

    Again, thanks.

    • Thank you for your encouraging words, Rick. you reminded me of one of the sobering realizations I had at seminary: it seemed that the black guys in our preaching class were always SO MUCH BETTER at teaching from the gospels and, in fact, much of the Old Testament. As we talked about it in class it was interesting to discover that I felt most comfortable learning from a didactic, legal style of writing (a product of my western education…), and was thus more comfortable with the epistles which we written in that style. my black brothers, however, seemed to do so much better with the gospels where teaching was done through narrative, being more accustomed to cultural teaching-by-storytelling and anecdote. I was always slow to take away the “message” from the story by comparison. I will never forget our principal’s challenge to us: “you MUST become familiar with the idiom of your King,” he said. If Jesus taught through stories, we had to learn to understand and tell stories too.
      Thus began the beginning of my education by storytelling, and it’s a journey I love more with every passing year.

      • I totally understand your comment regarding the ‘didactic’; when I first became a Christian, I received much teaching on recognizing cultic beliefs and Christian apologetics. It was useful–I am thankful for the theologcal foundation I have, but I wish there had been more emphasis on enjoying God (with apologies to the Westminster Catechism). The emphasis on being ‘right’ rather than on relationship; how do we find balance here? I am not sure I have found a church or church system that I think has a healthy balance–I have been fortunate to find that healthy balance in friends.

        When I read your post regarding the ‘pair at the door’, I immediately thought “she gets it!” What “it” is I don’t know how to verbalize other than an expression of balance between theological rightness and love of relationship. Can you give me a better verbal description of this? I have a sense, from your writing, that you are farther down this path than I am.

      • Hi Rick, I’m sorry it has taken me so long to reply. I’ve been intimidated by trying to process what “it” is 🙂 the short answer, I don’t know. But what I do know is this, getting older and having children, moving to different countries with very different churches and yet still meeting believers in those varied circumstances, and serving in vocational ministry have all served to show me that God is so much bigger, more loving, more gracious and more wise than I. The more I see of the world, the less I know. as Deuteronomy says “the secret things belong to The Lord our God, but the revealed things to His children.” He has kept so many things secret (not clear on church governance, much debate on infant vs adult baptism, no word directly on Mormonism, iraq or obamacare), but the revealed things (that we must walk in mercy, love and justice) he has made clear. I’m devoting more time to figuring out what God is FOR rather than what He is against. and I know He is for love, for courage, for righteousness. That is not to say that truth doesn’t matter, but I feel like I am slowly learning that we are supposed to be gracious seasoned with salt, not salty seasoned with grace.

  4. Thank you for your wisdom and experience here; your thoughts about being defined by what we are for, rather than what we oppose is, I think, the biggest challenge for the church today. Your wording puts it so well–mercy, love and justice. Somewhere along the way, I think, the American church at least, got lazy. We sought to legislate, rather than persuade–how we, and society, have suffered as a result. I think love, justice and mercy, in the context you shared, are our most effective, and delightful, acts of subversion toward this broken way the institutional church relates to the world around us.

    Thank you for the gift of time in your consideration of my question; I feel like I am just beginning to learn God’s language, if that makes any sense.

    Rick

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