The secret power of stories

One of the reasons we have decided to move to the inner city is because we are hoping that it would put us in a position where we can listen to the stories of people who are very different from us socio-economically and culturally in a more sustainable way.

In her powerful TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story, award-winning Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Aldichie, makes the point that when we let a single story drive our defining perception of a certain person, group or situation it creates stereotypes and “the problem with stereotype is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story.” The consequence of believing such “single stories” about others “is that it robs people of their dignity. It makes recognition of our equal humanity difficult and it emphasizes that we are different, rather than how we are similar.”

I believe that we need to listen more. Listen more to the stories of people in this country who are different from us. People in this country are more than a single story. No one person or people group or situation in this country can be defined by a single story.

But listening to someone’s story not only dismantles our stereotypical thinking, it also has tremendous value for the person telling their story. During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission meetings in South Africa in the 1990’s Lucas Baba Sikwepere was given the opportunity to share the story of how he came to be blind. He told the agonizing story with disturbing detail and then Ms Gobodo-Madikizela, who was interviewing him thanked him and asked, “How do you feel, Baba, about coming here to tell us your story?” This was his answer:
“I feel what – what has brought my sight back, my eye sight back is to come back here and tell the story. But I feel what has been making me sick all the time is the fact that I couldn’t tell my story. But now I – it feels like I got my sight back by coming here and telling you the story.”

Stories can restore the sight of the blind. It brings healing to the blindness of the story-teller, by restoring their dignity and humanity, but also brings healing to the blindness of the listener, by revealing our common humanity.

Who’s dignity can you restore this week by listening to their story? Who will you allow to heal your own “blindness” by listening to their story?


In the Rough…


So we are moving into the city!

 I would love for you to engage with what I am sharing by commenting, suggesting, disagreeing, questioning and telling stories of your own journeys and experiences.

The short and simple answer to why we are moving to the city is simply that we have felt our hearts stirred by God and wanted to act in obedience to His call. For some of you this might sound pretty normal, and for some of you this might sound like we are perhaps in need of a psych check-up. And yes, I agree to make a major life decision based on an ethereal “stirring in our hearts” alone is somewhat irrational, so here are some of the considerations and questions that could provide a slightly more concrete, rational footing to our decision making process:

– We noticed how often we would suggest solutions and give opinions “on behalf of” those who are poor, oppressed, marginalised or powerless rather than actually asking them about their experiences, stories and ideas. We realised the need and necessity in our own lives of a more sustainable way of listening to people who find themselves in these situations. Living in middle class – actually to be honest, relative to the rest of South Africa and the world, it would be more correct to say “upper class” – suburbia limited our opportunities to do this in sustainable ways.

– We believe that Jesus is the perfect expression of what God is like. We believe that He demonstrated the ways of God as very often “upside down” to the way we are doing things in the world right now (more about this in future posts) and thereby invited us to imagine what life would be like if under the loving rule of God. Asking “what if” questions helped us catch glimpses of what such a different life could possbily look like…”What if we had to stop believing that bigger is necessarily always better for us and instead of buying a bigger place in a “better area” believe that moving to a smaller place in a “bad area” could possibly be better for us? “What if living in homes with high security fences to protect ourselves and our privacy is actually not the best thing for us (or perhaps even for our country)?” (see my post on faith filled imagination for more on this point). “What if we believed that we could learn about love, joy, peace and reconciliation from spending time listening to the experiences of the “least of these” rather than compulsively google the powerful self-help gurus or download stacks of American best-selling authors or preachers’ podcasts?

– We grew tired of saying and thinking about what a “Jesus” way of life would be and never actually daring to try because we are too worried about the risks involved .

Those are just three of the many considerations and questions we have wrestled with over the last couple of months and years. I know that our reasons and motivations might be fallible, naive and oversimplifying very complex issues. I realise the fact that I have many blind spots and unsophisticated policitical, soci-economical and even theological ideas, but I would like to be as honest, vulnerable and authentic as possible in sharing this journey with you. So please bear with me!

I hope to reveal more of our process and start telling more stories of our actual experiences so far in blog posts to come.

Embracing Change (Part 2)

In my previous post, I confessed my reluctance to embrace change. (Thanks so much, by the way, for all the encouraging comments in response to that post!) One of the big changes coming up in our lives is that we will be moving house. Through a process of a myriad of small stirrings in our hearts and several powerful moments in our lives, we have felt the need to experience life as others do who are not able to afford or access the lifestyle that we have at the moment. We feel the need to position ourselves in a way that would make it possible for us to listen to and experience for ourselves the stories of people who live in this beautifully diverse country with us, but in totally different circumstances.

Through numerous helpful conversations, desperate prayers to our Heavenly Father and seemingly endless drives around Durban it has become clear that we need to relocate to the Durban CBD area.

Despite our overwhelming conviction, so much is still uncertain and my feelings seem to oscillate between excitement and fear on a daily basis. Over the next weeks, I will share with you our reasons, our journey, our experiences, our challenges as we embark on this adventure. I would love for you to journey with us, so please keep on reading and engaging!

Embracing Change…

I am not good with change. I get bored when things stay the same for too long. I take delight in innovation. I believe change is good for us. And yet I cannot say that I willingly embrace change.

So with rather significant changes in my work environment and a “big move” coming up at the end of this month (I hope to reveal more about this in future posts), I am feeling a little flustered these days and in need again (as always) of deeply connecting to the One who calls me His beloved child. One of my great allies in pursuing this connection is prolific author and humble priest, Henri Nouwen. I quote from his book, “Intimacy, Fecundity and Ecstacy”:

“For us to dare to live a life in which we continue to move out of the static places and take trusting steps in new directions – that is what faith is about. The Greek word for faith means to trust – to trust that the ground before you that you never walked on is safe ground, God’s ground, holy ground. 

Walk and don’t be afraid. Don’t want to have it all charted out for you. Let it happen. Let something new grow. That is the walk of faith – walking with the Lord, always walking away from the familiar places. “Leave your father, leave your mother, leave your brother, leave your sister. Follow me. I am the Lord of love.” And wherever there is love, fear will be wiped out. “Perfect love casts out all fear.”

You can go out and you will live. You will live eternally because Jesus is the Lord of life. That is the ecstasy. You can start participating in it every time you step out of your fear and out of the sameness. It doesn’t require big jumps, but simply small steps. 

Do you choose life? Or are you choosing death,that fearful place where you hang on to what you are most familiar with. Ecstatic living, real joy, is precisely connected with stepping onto unknown ground, trusting that you are in safe hands.”

What are you called to leave and step away from in small simple trusting steps in 2016?