Kairos-Milwaukie United Church of Christ

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, as I’m sure many of us have been in this era of such sharply divided public opinion, about how we know what we know.

I wonder what neurological processes are involved in encoding information in our brains, what psychological processes lead us to disregard some information while accepting other information. I wonder what habits of mind, what discipline of thought helps us know how to evaluate information we receive, and remain aware that our emotional responses may occasionally lead us astray.

As I read books and listen to podcasts about theology and politics and communication, I am reminded yet again of Chimamanda Ngozi Aidichies’s brilliant TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story” (see the video link below). In that talk she pointed out how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, and how damaging it can be to have just one story of a person, place or situation. She opens with the illustration of her own happy Nigerian childhood, reading and loving American and British children’s stories. She loved them so much that she decided to write her own stories. And in her stories blue-eyed white children played in the snow and ate apples and talked about the weather. Aidichie had never encountered any of these things, but ‘til that point she had only one story of what books could contain: white people enjoying things that take place in Britain and America.

When she arrived at an American college her white American roommate asked to hear some of Aidichie’s tribal music and was stunned when the only tapes she had were of Mariah Carey. Stunned that Aidichie’s family was middle class and well educated and that her childhood had been a happy one. Her roommate had one story of what life in Africa was like, a story mediated by a portrayal of the whole of Africa as one single reality in the American media.

As the autumn begins, as choir and women’s bible study and a new Sunday school year kick off, I encourage each of us to continue enriching our spiritual lives with the gift of many stories and perspectives, and many understandings of the sacred stories that have come down to us in our tradition. Jesus himself shows us the way in this, teaching over and over again in parables, which by their very nature offer us layers of wisdom and truth and are not meant to be read in one way.

Over the next few months we will continue with a series of occasional sermons by some of our non-clergy members and friends – a series which was so beautifully kicked off by David Parker on August 25. And I encourage us to continue to reach out to the community around us with the good news that there is more than one story of what it means to be Christian, more than one story of what it means to be a progressive Christian. That the world is replete with wonder and we are all invited to tell our own story of that wonder in our lives.