Within minutes of returning to my car after a brief but beautiful hike, my phone began to explode with text messages. Every one of the senders was attached to a credit card company. Each was checking to see if I had just made a purchase at a Walmart for $1040 (What I would later learn is this is the limit you can spend without further verification). I quickly looked in the secret place where I had hidden my wallet and was relieved to find it right where I’d hidden it. A moment later I realized that my credit cards were missing. This was not a new experience – I have been robbed about a half dozen times. Gratefully none of them involved physical violence. Yet each time the feeling of being violated permeates through my entire body. Then at some point my mind moves to, “If you just would have asked, I would have done everything I could to help you out.”
My sense is the feeling of having something stolen in the U.S. is at a pinnacle of prevalence. A significant portion of the country has a deep abiding narrative that things have be taken from them. There is however not one narrative, but rather two dominant narratives. Here is an extremely simplistic description:
The holders of one narrative believe that their livelihoods, history, culture and now presidential election has been stolen from them. At the core of this perspective is a deep belief that the “taking” of these things happened to them. And many believe it has happened in a well organized, deliberate manner by a particular group of people.
The holders of the other narrative believe that they have never been able to live into the fullness of their livelihood, history, culture, and that the opportunity to live into the fullness has been stolen from them. At the core of this perspective is a deep belief that they have never been given full access, opportunity, voice to that which others just take for granted. And many believe it has happened in a well organized, deliberate manner by a particular group of people.
In one narrative things have been taken. The other narrative things have never been available. At the core both believe they have been taken advantage of. When something has been stolen from us or denied to us,
we can feel vulnerable, helpless and objectified. If this experience becomes one’s entire narrative we can feel dehumanized.
Recently a good friend and leader in the African American community and I were musing on these coexisting dual narratives. During our conversation my colleague wondered aloud, “Imagine if you could get both of these groups in the same room…and could keep the emotional energy in check…and each would actually listen to the other’s story…my strong suspicion is that they might find they actually have some things in common.” If nothing else, my hope would be that each would respectfully truly listen to the other’s story.
I believe in this new chapter in our country healing our divisions will be all of our responsibility. It is only going to happen if we provide a brave space for folks to share their stories, where individuals feel respected, and as such comfortable to tell and listen to each others’ stories. Perhaps in our listening to the experiences of others around violation, loss, fear, while also sharing our own stories we will re-humanize each other.
“Open our hearts so that we can welcome each other
with our differences and live in forgiveness.
Grant us to live united in one body,
so that the gift that is each person comes to light.”
(From the Worship Material for this Week from the World Council of Churches – with thanks to Bishop Eaton)