I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately. That’s probably primarily because I’ve been working on a collection of true stories by Young Adult Catholics for the last year or so, and that collection is getting very close to publication. The anthology touches on a lot of hot-button issues. Immigration. Homosexuality. Women’s Ordination. Sex Abuse. Abortion.
Yet, none of the pieces are sermons. They aren’t arguments about why an author feels a certain way about an issue. They are, instead, stories that reveal how these “issues” are more than mere issues. How these are really the pieces of people’s lives.
My biggest fear for the book is that people will shut down their heart to the story because they disagree with an author’s stance on the “issue.” My friend Jenny recently wrote a wonderful blog post about how we need to prioritize listening to people’s stories over adhering strictly to the rules, and the post made me realize why I often feel so battered when the first responses I get to posts I write here are from people trying to “convince” me that I’m wrong-headed in one or another issue. It’s because I gave story, and I got rules. Because I wanted dialogue, but I got debate. As an editor of this blog, I also moderate comments; I make almost all responses to my posts public, because I believe in giving voice to everyone, even those with whom I disagree. Because I cherish free speech. Because everyone has a right to their opinions.
But I hardly ever respond to those comments. If they reduce me to an opinion, often a “wrong” one, I often don’t have the energy to bring my whole self to a response. It’s wearying, and painful. Realizing how important it is to us, as human beings, to tell our stories and to have those stories be heard, helped me understand why this is so difficult for me. It’s not just about the difficulty in disagreeing.
I have a friend who knows that I’m bisexual, but who also knows I’m “a good person.” This clarification is worth making because she still believes that homosexuality, as an orientation, is sinful. She believes a basic facet of my identity is sinful. But she doesn’t believe I am. She doesn’t try to change me, or convince me. Why? Because she leaves that job to God. As my friend, she rightly understands her role not to control or browbeat me, but to love me. To listen to me.
This is something I continue to strive to do. To remember that there is a story, and a person, behind each opinion. To remember that passing judgment isn’t my job (thank God!). And to do my best at what is the job tasked to us by Jesus: to love. And listening is an important first step.