against single stories


We listen long enough to get the details needed to tell one story about those around us, and then we move on. It’s more about coping for us than about knowing another.

Someone is allowed either to be awesome or horrible.
Either cool or sketchy.
Either generous or greedy.
Either loving or hateful.
Either honest or dishonest.
Either strong or weak.
Either whole or damaged.
Either victim or perpetrator.
Either faithful or unfaithful.

And so we only give the humans we find ourselves in life with the opportunity to plead their cases for one or the other. And as soon as we have enough information to sort them into single categories, we do so.

And then we stop listening.

But we don’t stop talking; we often then take our labeling into conversations with others and inform them of where and what certain people are…and only are.

We get to stop listening, you see, and then those around us get to stop listening as well. We become a community of talkers.

We can see it clearly in global narratives about genocide, xenophobia, welfare and war.

But we don’t see it clearly in our conversations over coffee, in our sermons from our pulpits, in our clients in our offices.

Because we’ve been taught to stop listening once we’ve heard a single story about someone.

And then we imagine the way that King Jesus managed to interact with women and men in ways to suddenly surface more than single stories that had been communicated about them. Tax collectors become humble and generous. Centurions become sensitive and scared. Prostitutes become beautiful and hopeful.

But only after an opportunities for actual conversation. Only after listening. Only after assuming we may not know more than only one story about someone.

May we work to listen to those we think we already know. And may we be eager to have stories rewritten by the characters themselves rather than histories and jargon. It is part of living in the kingdom.

Pine Tree

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4 thoughts on “against single stories

  1. John and Ann says:

    Donald, this is wonderful. John/Ann

  2. Greg says:

    Can I share this with my classes on diversity?

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