What I Learned About the Power of Story

Having over 10,000 people in 67 different countries read your story teaches you some things. At least, it has for me.

Four weeks ago I shared my story of being an African American woman who is Lutheran. I debated about sharing it right down to the last minute before pressing submit. I was very aware that sharing my story came with risk; this is why I noted that I was either wise or foolish for doing so (the jury is still out.) But, the risk was not all that resulted in my hesitation. You see, I am not one that typically chooses to be vulnerable (Brene’ Brown is helping me.) Sharing my experience in the church is by far the most publicly vulnerable thing I have ever done. And, today, I am so very glad I did it.

Over the last four weeks, I have read as many comments about the blog as possible across social media sites and responded where I could. I have had conversations in person and by phone, email, and Facebook messenger.

There are a few things this experience has taught me.

I have learned to never be afraid of my truth. Owning my truth is liberating for me and sharing it allows me to be a vehicle through which others can be liberated.

I learned the power of story. So many of you have shared your story with me. I have heard you say my story is your story. You have shared the particular phrases and quotes from my story you have heard time and time again. You have shared your stories of how you have experienced being on the margins of your own denominations and work places. You have shared your struggles with being a white ally but your commitment to continue doing this work. You have shared how my story empowered you to share your own story with others.

I have heard you say the ways in which you are convicted by and struggle with this work. I have heard some of you courageously admit that a part of you really doesn’t want to change; because, frankly, it is more comfortable being comfortable – but you have committed to not let that part of you win. Some of you admitted you don’t know what to say or what to do; but, you know you cannot be silent. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Thank you for choosing not to be silent.

I have heard you say my story has helped you to be renewed and re-invigorated for this work of racial justice. You have connected your hopes for the church we are becoming with my own hopes.

I have always used story as an interesting teaching and preaching technique; and, those who know me personally know I can always work up on a random story to illustrate a point. But this experience has helped me to really understand the power of story. I believe all of our stories united together, when moving from story to action, has the capacity to radically change the world.

So, today I encourage you to please share your story. The world needs it.

The day after I posted my story, I shared the following on my Facebook page: “Thank you to the very many of you who have taken the time to read my story. I am incredibly humbled that in just over 24 hours more than 3,700 people took the time to read, like, share, retweet, and comment on my blog. I am also incredibly sad. Something about pressing “Submit” on the blog yesterday made it more real. But, more than I am sad, I am hopeful and I am free. Free from living under the veiled cover of the effects of racism on people like me. Beloved, we have been silent for far too long. My colleague Andy Arnold commented, ‘thank you for sharing your story and for your persistent belief that the evil of racism will not have the final word…’ And, that is all this is about for me. I just refuse to let the sin of racism win. I am free to continue using my voice to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a broken world. You are free too. To join me on this journey. Thank you for your willingness to do so. Live love.”

Thank you for being a conversation partner with me over the last four weeks. May we continue to be partners as we move from conversation to action. May we go into the places and spaces where we have influence and ask who is not at the table and make sure they are invited. May we listen to people different from us and shape ministry together. May we avail ourselves to experiences other than what is most familiar to us. May we unite to not let the sin of racism win.

I look forward to crossing paths on the journey. God bless you.

Yours in Mission,

Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney