Telling stories is one of the oldest forms of human play and entertainment. As a student of the Bible for most of my life, it became clear to me a long time ago that stories become sacred to us when they convey meaning and wisdom to us. It doesn’t matter whether they are factual and historically accurate or not. The power is not in the historicity but in the meaning and wisdom they lend us. “Sacred stories” are really those that we tell and re-tell. We don’t re-tell bad stories. We only re-tell stories that break open the meaning of life for us in some way or another.
Since the events in Charleston, SC almost a week ago now, I have been hungry for stories. I have been reading the stories of almost anyone who has written one on blogs, FB and other venues. I listen to them on NPR, and I share those (re-tell) that speak poignantly to me. I have also asked the people around me–especially those who do not have the same background as I to tell me their stories. What, in particular, have the events in Charleston meant to you, felt like to you?
From two different male, African American friends, I heard similar stories. Yes, the events of Charleston have been hard, but (they both used the word “but”) “but this is reality.” They both said this. As I listened to them what I heard was that this horror in Charleston at Emanuel AME is a part of the reality that they have had to live with all their lives in many different–even if much less dramatic–ways. Hearing these stories has made me aware of my own inner workings which I hear echoed in my white friends. We have, it seems, varying levels of awareness and unawareness of “this reality.” As one African American friend put it: when I am within the African American community, this kind of thing is off my radar, but when black and white folks mix, as most of us do most of the time, I know that this is the reality–these kinds of things can and do happen. What happens to human hope and aspiration, creativity and imagination, when one has had to learn to expect this sort of thing to happen?
We are at a place in our nation’s history when we must begin to forge new stories. I think they must be stories about how we–people who look different on the surface from each other–found each other and fell in love with each other. Our old stories can only take us so far–to the edge of this new playground. The old stories will not be able to take us through our current brokenness.
Bob, This is an exceptional meditation. It needs to be read and reflected upon more than once by each of us. You bring to my feelings both a personal and an intellectual truth. The personal truth echoes my own (white southern) formation of attitudes around matters of race, which was especially around matters of difference, as in “them,” “those others.” During my military stint I became friends with several African American colleagues, and that time marked a real period of shift away from “othering.” The intellectual truth you offered regards the role of sacred stories as touching a depth of feeling that transcends literal truth of factuality and accuracy. There we “enter” the imagery of felt presence. We don’t stand apart to judge its veracity. This entering is what brings out the sacredness of meaning beyond any factual accuracy. Where you end the meditation is also a beginning for yet another wisdom piece. In order for us to change emotionally, we need to change our stories. If we keep telling the stories of our knotted feelings from the past, we will remain tied to emotions that ensnare and trap us in old cycles of attitudes and habits. Sacred stories of transformation can release us from habitual cycles and help us “see” the New Playground. Thanks, Roy Reynolds
Thank you, Rev. Roy, for adding these insights. It reminds me. About 15 years ago, in Birmingham, AL, I participated in a weekend retreat of storytelling particularly around race. The group was made up of white, black and Latino adults. At one point, deep in the midst of very personal and powerful stories, I responded to someone’s story with something like: I had no idea.
An African American friend of mine gently and honestly responded:
“We know. We have always had to know how you all lived. You all have never had to know how we lived.” In that singular moment, I was never more aware of the gulf in our personal stories and the deep connection telling them could create.