Narrating Worth

I have been struck recently with the the beauty of stories. I was driving home a couple weeks ago, and while listening to NPR I heard an interview with an 62-year-old Black woman and her 61-year-old sister about the hardships in their lives. Specifically how the small suburb of Detroit they’d lived in was divided and how they themselves and other people of their race were separated, sectioned off and denied the new housing promised them. Thankfully the City recently saw what it had done made things right, at least for these two ladies.

As I listed to the words of this old soul, who sounded so kind and sweet, who had faced so much injustice, I could not help but think that this woman’s story, her trials and her joys (in general, the worth of her existence) was not lost to my Messiah -that the mass of her experiences are worth something in the end.

Recently in my General Psychology Class we the students were asked to break up into groups and give a presentation on what we thought about human dignity.  It was a pretty open assignment, which at first really bugged me. But when the different groups came together we all brought a different point of view to the topic, we were each able to display what we thought the dignity of humanity was within the freedom of the assignment.

One group did a survey of what people thought dignity was, another used a camera to interview people on the street. There were a couple others, but my favorite by far consisted of a couple of audio clips from people found on the sidewalk set to pictures of the Streets of Portland. The clips were simple, my friend Chris when around with a recorder and simply asked people to tell him a story or what was on their mind, stuff like that.

The interviews were really interesting. One consisted of a young lesbian speaking about her issues with what media told her what femininity was. Another was a young dude talking about how he met his girlfriend on myspace. Yet another was the story of a man who had just found himself homeless spoken in his own words. The last, was an older lady recounting the hilarity of living in a van with her husband and kids during the 60’s. These people’s stories were heavily salted with profanity, and at first seemed like just a collection of trivial sections of people’s lives. In reality I was listened to these people’s struggles, joys, and pains and slowly realized that these few stories where what dignity was about. Dignity is greater than a lofty idea or a metaphysical state, a persons worth isn’t defined by the lines we draw around them. The stories where real people’s experiences and because of it, this one presentation gave me a greater appreciation of human worth than all the other well phrased, lofty, theological statements on the issue combined.

I was reading J. Mark Bertrand’s book (Re)thinking Worldview this evening for my Philosophy class and was struck by this sentence, talking about how Christians should understand and do art especially through story, Bertrand says, “…storytelling lets them (the audience) experience truth, specifically the truth of real life and the way ideas and actions operate within it. We don’t tell stories to change people’s minds. We don’t tell stories to educate them. We tell stories so that they can picture reality as it is or how it ought to be.” Bertrand went on to say that art is best when it displays reality, and loses something when in singularly holds agenda.

I’m glad that story means something, that the art of telling it works best when tied to reality, that the happenings in reality mean something, and that throughout the narrative of reality we can see such things as joy, hardships, laughter, love and pain that together work to the Messiah’s glory.

Even pain? Even Hardships?

I think that the do in some way. Bertrand, talking about including evil in story said this:

“… Christian doctrine teaches that man is created in God’s image but fallen- indeed, that the world itself is corrupt as a result of this fall. There  are no good guys, no white hats or horses. Everyone is tainted by evil and no one can be accurately represented without it’s inclusion (which is why the innocence of some Christian attempts at fiction ring so false). It is in this context of corruption that the gospel is offered- without the fall, there is no call for redemption. Evil is, in this sense, a necessary aspect of human existence and a necessary component in any representation of reality. Evil is a necessary part of the Christian story.”

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