I love a good story.
As children, we grow up with stories. We love to tell stories and hear stories.
When I was a little girl, I would love to hear stories from adults. It really didn’t matter whether they were telling me a fictional, nonfictional, tall tale, exaggerated or truthful story. I just loved to listen to them.
As we get older, we lose this sense of wonder in telling and listening to stories. We become “adults” and want things to be factual, purposeful and useful.
So the art of storytelling gets pushed to the margins and we lose sight of the value of telling stories. I must confess that I have lost this admiration of telling stories.
This marvel of storytelling was affirmed at the inaugural meeting of the Society of Race, Ethnicity and Religion (SRER) on April 26-28 at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and McCormick Theological Seminary.
Stacey Floyd-Thomas, Anthony Pinn and Miguel A. De La Torre had the vision of carving a space for scholars of color to meet, renew friendships and share our scholarship. Thus, the three scholars initiated, planned and executed this society.
Through their years of dreaming and planning, they were able to finally create a space where communities of color can gather to discuss among themselves so as to advance their scholarship. This society is to be a place where people can engage, learn and be challenged from communities of color other than our own.
The first society meeting had more than 70 attendees – students, professors, scholars and activists who attended, participated and spoke.
The plenary speakers were James Cone, M. Shawn Copeland, Barbara Mann, Kwok Pui Lan, Fernando F. Segovia and George E. “Tink” Tinker.
Each speaker was a breath of fresh air as they spoke about their lives, visions, struggles and scholarship. The running theme for the plenary speakers was telling their stories.
The speakers recognized the white privilege context in which they are situated in their own institutions and the academy.
As minority scholars, they recognized the importance of sharing their stories of racism, oppression, domination and slavery of their ancestors in the hopes of working toward restoration, justice and reconciliation.
As these plenary speakers shared their individual stories, many of the attendees recognized that the stories being told were their own stories. The pain in each presenter’s story was heartbreaking.
Certainly, the level of pain is different for every person, and it is difficult to compare the journey of each person – the exploited people of the Native American reservations, the slavery of African Americans, the domination of the Hispanics and the subordination of Asian Americans. The pain we feel is still raw.
As the participants listened to these stories of struggling in institutions, the academy and the larger community and society, we each recognized ourselves within their stories. Thus, in the process of telling and hearing these stories, we were affirmed that we are not alone in our struggles.
Academics, especially those in religious fields, live lonely, solitary lives as we teach, research, write papers and give papers.
In our loneliness, we feel we are the only ones struggling against structures that exacerbate the isolation of minority scholars in an isolating profession.
But by listening to these senior scholars, many of us found redemption in their voices and recognized that we are not alone.
Through the telling of their stories, a life-giving process was occurring. These stories carried power in them as they became stories of endurance, aspiration, transformation and empowerment.
Thus, SRER became an open forum to share our struggles, hear our cries of injustice and reimagine a world where the Spirit can fill us and the world with power to work toward justice and equality.
There is power in storytelling, so perhaps there is a need to go back to telling and sharing our stories.
The Bible is full of stories – of God’s love for God’s people, of heroes and losers, of fall and redemption and of faithful people.
Perhaps as we reread the Bible, we need to share these stories with our communities as living testament of God’s love for us, creation and everything and everyone in it.