Human beings are meaning-making creatures. In order to create meaning, we tell stories.
Before the advent of handheld electronic devices, one of may favorite activities was “people watching.” I could spend hours covertly watching the people around me. I loved to make up stories based on my observations. The airport was by far the best place for people-watching. There were lots of people to watch and lots of time to kill.
I didn’t care whether my stories were true or were wildly false. The enjoyable part, to me, was observing the people around me and creating stories that made sense (at least to me). I came by my nosiness honestly. My mother was quite proficient at people watching. When she was young, my grandparents had to say to her on more than one occasion, “Susan, stop staring!”
People-watching in airports or malls or train stations or other public places may be relatively harmless as long as we make stories that are fluid and kind. Harm comes when we construct–consciously or unconsciously–stories that are harsh, judgmental, and fixed. I might construct stories that are completely wrong. After all, I really have no idea about what is going on in another person’s life. I am even less qualified to make assumptions about groups of people.
Stories exist within larger frameworks that we call “narratives.” Narratives have an overarching theme or trajectory. “The Hero’s Journey” is a very common narrative. Think Odysseus, Frodo Baggins, and Harry Potter. “Women Who Defy” is another narrative. Think of Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives who allowed the infant Moses to live in direct defiance of Pharoah. Think Katniss Everdeen, Pai/Paikea from the movie Whale Rider, and Celie from The Color Purple.
Rev. Dr. David Anderson Hooker opened my eyes to the roles that stories and narratives play in conflict. Conflict can result from a clash of narratives. Last June, I spent a week learning from Rev. Dr. Hooker at the Summer Institute for Reconciliation sponsored by Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation. My week at the Institute was life-giving and life-changing. Rev. Dr. Hooker returns this June to present the same seminar, “Discovering and Embracing Narratives of Reconciliation,” at the 2018 Summer Institute.
Reconciliation can occur when individuals and communities create shared narratives. We make sacred space for one another in our stories as we tell them together and we live in to them together. By so doing, we add another chapter to the True Story of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ.