Stories Matter

 The Good Samaritan, after Delacroix, by Vincent van Gogh

The Good Samaritan, after Delacroix, by Vincent van Gogh

“Stories matter, many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispose and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but they can also repair that broken dignity.” ~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Stories matter. I recently watched Dallas Buyers Club and it really rattled me. I grew up in the 80s and remember what a big deal the AIDs epidemic was…well, kind of. As a kid in the suburbs of Denver, I was pretty removed from it other than seeing the headlines. I watched the movie and was absorbed in the characters and their personal stories of suffering. The movie was raw and well done. It left me shaking my head and wrestling with a few questions.

Where were we? Where were the Christians? People were suffering and dying horrific, lonely deaths, ostracized by the world. An entire community of people shattered by a disease. Where were Jesus’ followers to comfort, to walk with, and to help these people die in a dignified manner? Were we so immersed in fear and judgment that we thought only of ourselves? Did we just keep ourselves safe? Is that the priority?

Life is messy. And let me tell you, I don’t like mess. I like things neat and tidy, it makes me feel like I am in control of my life. I like control. As an American, I can control my environment really well and pick and choose whom I want in that environment. And walking with people I view as less than, who aren’t like me, who are in sin or who others tell me are in sin regardless of their suffering, for sure, I don’t have to get involved with.

Here’s the problem with that: Jesus and his teachings. Do we really want to face what he commanded us to do? ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love our neighbors as ourselves. What came after this command in the book of Luke? A parable because the expert in religious law had to play a game and ask, “well, who is my neighbor?” Technically, whom may I exclude and still follow God’s law? Do we ask this same question daily? Who are the people we can exclude from loving and still follow Jesus? Today, would that be people living with HIV, the LGBT community., the poor, the homeless, refugees, immigrants, the mentally ill, drug addicts, the incarcerated, prostitutes, and those of other religions, Muslims and Jews. Of course, I will point out the Palestinians, since they have had refugee status for 66 years. Can’t we exclude all of these people? Can't I exclude anyone who isn't like me? 

I think the parable of the Good Samaritan is the perfect answer to why Christians should be concerned with human rights, with those who suffer, and with restoring dignity. Do Christians love someone regardless of what religion they are, what ethnicity they are, what kind of sin they are in, or if they are suffering, for example if they are laying in a ditch bleeding to death?  Who stopped to help in the parable? It wasn’t the religious people. The man’s sworn enemy, a Samaritan, he’s the one that cleaned and bound the wounds of a fellow human being left to die. This is a command and to me, the whole case for human rights. Why? Because the person lying in the ditch was a HUMAN BEING. Period. A human being. Furthermore, a human being with a story in need of compassion and redemption just like me. Stories matters.

I guess the movie and Ron Woodroof’s story made me face how we neglected and vilified people suffering and dying of AIDs. We turned our back to their pain. We excluded. Not only do we owe that entire community an apology for our lack of love, but also, I believe we need to acknowledge the people we are neglecting right now…in 2014. Who are we excluding because of our fear, because of our need to keep ourselves safe and because we refuse to listen to their stories? What if we were known for our love? Known for inviting all into the expansive love of God. 

Below is a TED talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer, on the danger of viewing people and places with one, single narrative. We can’t love or engage properly without knowing all of the stories.

 

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

 Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” –Luke 10:36-37 (The Message)