Religious Exploration – Cynthia Westby, Director of Religious Exploration Column for January

The world is made of stories.  We are all storytellers.  Every day we tell stories – to our friends, families and co-workers.  We share our experiences and whether we are aware of it or not, we share what we have made of these experiences in that moment.  Telling our stories we end up reflecting on and exploring what is meaningful to us.  Stories are powerful. They can teach.  They can inspire us – possibly to act.

Each Sunday, near the beginning of our service a storyteller offers a story relating to the theme of the sermon and service that day – our “Story for All Ages.”  This story offers a window into the topic that reveals some facet(s) of the theme and gives our children a pathway to considering the theme of the day.  These stories may also metaphorically offer insights into the topic for everyone.  Some of our services also include personal stories from members, children and/or guests.  These too are so vital to bringing to life the theme of the day’s service.

Listening to and absorbing stories, our stories can change, our actions may change.  Perhaps we shift from “what am I learning from this story?” to “what story do I want to live?”  They can cause us to reflect on our life stories and plant seeds that may blossom into a new understanding of our story.

As a long time storyteller I am very interested in the impact of stories.  Most stories have layers of meaning; their metaphors potentially pointing at different implications depending upon our understanding of the metaphors.  New meanings can be revealed over time as we ponder the story:  perhaps we notice something new about the metaphor; perhaps we understand a character’s motivation differently; perhaps we consider the story from the perspective of a character for whom we had not given much consideration; perhaps we realize that certain voices or facets of the characters are ignored.

As David Loy says in his thought provoking book The World is Made of Stories, “Like the proverbial fish that cannot see the water they swim in, we do not notice the medium we dwell within.  Unaware that our stories are stories, we experience them as the world.  But we can change the water.  When our accounts of the world become different, the world becomes different.”  That opportunity to notice what we do and do not include in our stories – as individuals, as communities, as societies – is a profoundly powerful act. It can be a deeply intentional act of resistance.  For my February 18th sermon, I will be talking about oral histories as acts of resistance when we empower forgotten, erased or ignored memories.

Stories are powerful.  Leaving out important parts, marginalizing the voices of some, erasing or forgetting difficult parts of a story – whether personal or societal – we homogenize a story, for whatever conscious or unconscious reason.  When we do, our stories do not convey the reality or the fullness of our stories or our lives.  When we resist, when we include the whole story – we change the water.  Our world changes.  Something I believe all of us as UUs aspire to do – changing the world.  It can be incredibly difficult and challenging to first notice the stories we tell and the implicit meaning we are conveying with what we include and exclude, and then to reconsider these stories to empower memories not included to give them voice.  As so many in the #MeToo movement have been so bravely doing.  Like all acts of resistance, changing our stories is an act of courage.

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