At Burgies, the coffee shop where I work, we value people and their stories. On our signs, cups, and coffee collars reads: “Everyone has a story worth sharing.” And I love telling stories. Getting every single fact exactly accurate is not the point of a good story. I tell stories to bring people to a place, a time, even if they weren’t there with me–I tell stories so they can feel like they were there with me. Stories aren’t just to entertain or for humor. They can evoke sympathy/empathy, they can prick a heart filled with love–but stories aren’t always about extreme emotion either.
Stories show as much as they tell. When my Grandpa tells me stories about odd jobs he and my Grandma had-and how they traveled around the country together-I get a sense of who he is, and who I am as well. I see him differently because of his stories.
When my friend tells me about her neighbors and the fight of the property line, I begin to see what life in a small town is like, even if I’m not there.
Stories can bring out a sense of belonging–identity. When we can relate to a group of people with a certain kind of story we feel accepted. To keep this feeling of acceptance we begin to filter our experiences and daily lives into categories that are pertinent and acceptable, as well as those that may not be. We can even give ourselves a sense of self-worth based on the number of acceptable stories we share–and who is listening and how they react.
And so, I find myself in a strange place and unable to discern an acceptable category of stories. I’m not currently surrounded by academics and theologically focused individuals. I hang out with a group who will be completely engrossed in theological conversation for nearly 10 minutes–but it is sometimes much more ‘acceptable’ to talk about movies, music, or embarrassing moments…
At the coffee shop where I work, around some people it is OK to ask why we as “Christians” can love some people, but cast out others based on sexuality, political stance, social status, car preference, or family origin. But the next minute acceptable conversation consists of a party-oriented lifestyle, Facebook, or paying bills.
Of what value are my stories in this ever-changing environment in which I find myself? At camp, I used to tell stories to open up my devos for the campers–to loosen them up and get them to think. If all went well (in my eyes), I tied up the scripture I was focusing on with my story, hopefully helping the campers to grab hold of something a bit better.
But I’m not really doing devos anymore. Who am I in this new place? Where am I taking people with my stories, how am I making people laugh, think deeply, what am I showing them?
Stories can create a feeling of identity and acceptance…if we can tell the right stories. But for now I continue to ask…with whom do I identify? Who and what identifies me? Whose acceptance am I seeking? Do my stories matter anymore?