"So tell me your story."
Never has there been a time when so much information is so quickly available.
Living in the 24-hour news cycle means local, regional, national, and world events are presented, understood, and interpreted in real-time. Even though slavery was officially abolished on January 1st, 1863, it took two and a half years for Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation to reach slaves in Texas. Today, this would have been immediately sent out via tweet, communicating the wonderful news of freedom in 140 characters or less.
Not only is the news faster, but the breadth and depth of what is covered has grown exponentially. We hear about everything from a Kardashian's outfit to the potential for nuclear war. Information is available in great detail, and we struggle to keep up.
How we manage our personal information has changed. Facebook and other social media sites have allowed us to moderate the details of our lives. We can use the details of our lives to forge an identity, defining ourselves how we see fit. In this sense we have become our own Public Relations Department, crafting narratives and twisting the details to maintain an image.
As we take part in the mission of God, learning the details of people's lives is a crucial skill. If racism and prejudice entails generalizing and judging people based on superficial aspects of who they are, learning specifics about people's stories is the best way to truly build redemptive relationships. No generalizations. No stereotyping. But specific people, made in God's image, with seasons and scenarios they have endured and enjoyed.
Nehemiah inspected the destruction of the wall before going to the people with the plan to rebuild. In the same way, we are learning the specific details of the experiences of brokenness and pain as well as joy and triumph people have had up until this point in time. This will inform how we go forward with them in redemptive relationships. How do they see themselves, and how do their experiences in this broken world shape and form their identity?
In Christ, we have been given a new identity. We no longer need to forge our own as we seek validation and affirmation. We already have it as beloved sons and daughters, and therefore we are no longer our own PR team. But, understanding how others apart from Christ are still trying to define themselves on their own terms, we can take tangible steps toward knowing their hearts and not just facts.
How do we do this with wisdom?
Think of a anchor on a local news broadcast. They are paid to clearly and concisely report the news of the day to the public. The reason there are journalism classes is not just to teach people how to speak well into a camera, but the integrity that is necessary to report what truly took place. Anchors are there to relate reality, and in that they need our trust.
And, there are editors involved who decide which stories the anchors will cover, when in the broadcast they will be shared, and to what depth they will give.
As we get to know the details of people's lives, we are simply asking them to be their own news anchor and editor.
"So, tell me your story."
Asking this question frees them to share the details of their lives that they deem most important. They are both editor and anchor, going in depth on the stories of their lives that best communicate who they are. This frees us from acting like detectives, interrogating people while a single lightbulb illuminates a darkened room. We simply turn the camera on them, sit back and listen.
In that we become an audience where they can decide what they put forward. It isn't about what we want to know about them, it's about what they want to share about themselves. They choose what aspects of their lives they entrust to us, and as we share details of our lives we are doing the same. Mutual understanding and trust is being built as experiences are shared.
Far too often I am the detective from Law & Order asking question after question that makes people feel more like suspects than actual people. Becoming an audience and receiving what is the most important information validates the individual as one embedded in this broken world, and shows a willingness to learn more of how they have actually experienced that brokenness.
If someone asked you to share your story, where would you start? What would you focus on the most, and why? This may just reveal where you find identity and how you make sense of the world.
Would you start with your relationships? Would you describe your job? Would you describe your love of the local sports team, or that you enjoy playing golf?
Moving toward redemptive and mutually influential relationships with others starts with a handshake, sharing our laments over the recent weather. It goes on from there to learn details and information as stories of life are shared. Yes, this is classic oversimplification. But I believe that's necessary for us as we hope to always be a church that takes the Good News of the gospel into our community.
Moving toward learning how they interpret life and make sense of the world, you use what you learn about their story to go deeper into worldview, hopes, dreams, fears, joys. You can identify with them as you see complementary aspects of their identity. You have then moved beyond the surface to the realm of shared experience.
Let's be wise, let's be intentional, let's be thoughtful. But in the end, out of love for Jesus and others, we get to know actual people with actual stories. Next week we will work through how we can learn more about how people apart from Christ make sense of the world and our response.