In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, the late Harper Lee captures the complex reality of relationship: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Sounds messy and uncomfortable, doesn’t it?
Although we can’t literally climb inside someone else’s skin, we have the opportunity to capture other points of view if we share our stories.
In principle, the concept is simple. It could start a chain reaction. You tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine. We’ll get to know each other a little better, and then, as we spend more time together and begin to care about each other, we’ll create new stories that belong to us both. We’ll share those stories with others, and they’ll share theirs, and before you know it, a community has grown.
About 10 years ago, Dann Pantoja, a peacebuilder in the Philippines, needed two men to work together, one a Muslim, the other Christian. Unfortunately, the two men hated each other. Dann sent them off in a boat together for the weekend with one rule: Don’t kill each other. With nothing else to occupy their time, they shared stories and got to know each other. They returned as the best of friends and proceeded to work together building peace communities.
Sharing stories can be as messy and uncomfortable as trying to slide inside someone else’s skin. The kind of story sharing that builds relationships and community requires vulnerability from both storyteller and listener.
In his book Vulnerable Faith, Pastor Jamie Arpin-Ricci says that brokenness and fear of rejection—something he likens to death—often prevent us from fully exposing our innermost selves to others. Yet this filtered truth-sharing stands in the way of true relationship: “Like Adam and Eve, we cover our nakedness in so many ways, motivated by the [understandable] fear of death.”
Story-listening also comes with risk. What if we hear uncomfortable, unfamiliar perspectives, or ideas that challenge our beliefs? How do we reconcile this tension?
Author and theologian Peter Enns suggests that we consider whether we place our faith in what we determine to be a “correct” belief system, or if, instead, we place our faith in God. In The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our Correct Beliefs, he writes that “[w]hen correct thinking is central to faith, we transmit onto God our own distorted mental image of God, with all its baggage, hang-ups and deep fears. That is a tense faith, which we cover up with cleverness and arrogance, and which slides easily to anger and hatred toward those who think differently.”
Let’s share stories. Your experiences will add texture and richness to my perception of the world. I may not agree with all of your ideas—and you may not agree with mine—but we can still walk together and honour God in the spirit of community.
Deborah Froese is Mennonite Church Canada’s news services director.