Saturday, December 4, 2010

Listening for stories

So I watched this clip this morning about "The Danger of a Single Story."  It got me thinking about things on several levels, particularly having lived cross-culturally.  It resonated with my own experience.

And I got to thinking that being willing to hear all stories about a person or a people is so important about making human connections.  Sociologists talk about stereotyping as a sort of short cut for survival and communication.  We look at people, we size them up, and then we act according to what we expect will work.  But to truly know someone, we have to be willing to listen to their stories - all of them - positive, negative, neutral.  We have to take the time to hear people and to know what makes them tick.

We do this with our children, right?  We spend a lot of time trying to understand them, to draw them out, to walk with them through joys and pains in life.  We do this with our friends.  We hear their stories, we tell our own to build relationship and connection or to encourage and challenge.

Learning to seek out and engage peoples' stories has really helped me in relationships.  I'm an introvert.  I somewhat hate talking to "strangers," meeting new people, and trying to figure out their cultural and personal expectations of me (as a Third-Culture Kid, I think that's normal, actually).  But I find myself engrossed in the stories of other peoples' lives.  And I find that when I truly listen to a person's stories - all of them - I'm able to find points of connection with almost everyone I meet.

This idea has great relevance to how I talk about faith.  The single story that I was taught about sharing faith is that the church has the solution to the human problem of pain, suffering, evil, sin.  Armed with a tract, I was to leave the safety of the church, go out into the streets, and impart that solution to the people I met.  The stereotype is that the world out there is broken and needs what I have to say.  That's really the only story I ever heard.

Over the last years though, I have begun to live out of who I am, and I have begun to listen to the stories of the people around me.  Instead of seeing them as the stereotypical people who "need Jesus," I have seen them as people with many, many stories of joys and pains, desires and setbacks, hopes and fears.  And I have engaged with those things at a human level, sometimes sharing my own story, sometimes sharing a Bible story, and sometimes just sitting without words.  This is what it means to me now to share faith--it's to walk with people making genuine connections to them and their many stories.

Reading this blog, you may get the impression that all I ever talk about is faith.  But the reality is that I spend a lot more time in my relationships listening to other people or building natural human connections based on shared interests or discussions about ideas.  Though faith is central to my life and is always on my mind, I only talk about it when it's relevant to the current story that we're discussing.

The idea of sharing faith doesn't have to be a horrible, scary thing.  It doesn't have to mean the imposition of my beliefs on other people.  It doesn't have to mean uncomfortable conversations with people.  If I truly believe that I am in the world to love and care for the people around me, and if I am doing that by hearing peoples' stories and engaging with them in a natural way, then talking about my own faith and my own perspective becomes really natural too.

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