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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Listening is an Act of Love


This morning I was watching the Today Show.

That’s right. Everyone laugh at me. I watch the Today Show. I wake up each morning, make three eggs (two whole eggs, one egg white, salsa, salt, pepper, a little bit of milk, and chives if we have them) and flip on a little Matt, Meredith, and Anne. It’s a great way to start your morning.

Moving on…this morning, while watching NBC’s morning show, I was introduced to a fantastic organization and an interesting new(ish) book.

I may be a few months late on this one as I do not listen to NPR and apparently they have been sharing this narrativey goodness for months.

The book is called Listening is an Act of Love and is a compilation of stories gathered by Storycorps. Storycorps is an oral history project traveling around the USA (and permanently fixed in NYC). Inside this trailer/booth is recording equipment set up to record people telling their personal history, whether it is about themselves, parents, and siblings, or about people who have impacted their lives. The session is limited to 40 minutes and recorded. At the end you are given a copy to keep and another copy will be sent to the Library of Congress. So far there has been over thirty thousand stories recorded.

A portion of one such story was shared on this morning’s Today. Anne then asked her about the process of sharing her story. She said that as she entered the booth she began speaking of her daily struggles. She shared financial difficulties, problems at the work place, and political angst. After fifteen minutes of this “small talk”, she began to feel comfortable with the tales she was sharing. As she spoke she began to feel the freedom to express her emotions. She felt comfortable exposing her insides. Why? In her words, because someone was listening. The conversation then took a turn and she began talking about her brother’s death from AIDS. In a time where it was not socially acceptable to discuss homosexuality or AIDS she shared the shame, pain and even hatred that she felt with regards to her brother. She brought her story. Not a story to entertain. Not a pretty story. Not a story she knew others would want to hear. She brought a unique story in a way that only her soul could share.

The interview with Anne continued and the woman said, “You find your voice in this booth, you share things you would not share normally. The bottom line for me is that when someone shows interest in your unique story…you share it.”

Each day, in a booth on wheels, story is shared. Eyes meet eyes and in-between lay the emotions of diverse men and women. Here individual’s stories inform and affirm our collective one. What can we take from this?

I hope this does not come with a condescending tone, but I cannot help but critique the stories our culture is drawn to. Why are we interested in Britney’s mental illness? Why do corporate success stories plaster our front pages? Why do we gravitate to numerical explosion in church congregations? Why must 25 minutes of the nightly news be filled with coverage of steroids in baseball? What is it about these stories that we are drawn to? Why is this where we show interest?

Perhaps that is the wrong question. Perhaps the question should not be a why (for sake of time and frustration), but a how. How can we enter these booths? How can we, as individuals/community/churches/families invite others to exposure? How can we value the emotions of others, regardless of their weight, ugliness, or brilliance? How can we value the stories of all? How can we invite those stories to be shared? And why do such stories scare us? Why do we need a booth?

For more information visit: http://www.storycorps.net or pick up Listening is an Act of Love.

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Jason Bowker said...

Thanks so much for your thoughts. We met at the MHGS Experience Weekend in November. My wife, Mandy, and I will be moving out to Seattle this summer to begin at Mars Hill in the fall. I have been reading your blog lately and am continually encouraged by your words. If Mars Hill prepares students to think and reflect about the world in a similar way as you, then I am all the more excited about starting my education. Peace, Jason.

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