We asked members of our staff to share what moves them to do justice work. This month Mike Neuroth, International Policy Advocate, reflects the gift of “story.”
Sharing your Story, Sharing the Journey
When I think about what inspires my work for justice, a variety of people, experiences, and theological concepts quickly flash though my mind. I first think about those theologians and prophets like Archbishop Oscar Romero and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. whose lives embodied concepts of justice, liberation, and equality. I reflect on stories I take with me from time spent abroad, stories of individuals and communities struggling amidst poverty, underdevelopment, and the specter of human rights violations. I flash back to other experiences I had in high school and seminary in bible studies and at tables of fellowship with individuals and families facing poverty and homelessness- stories of struggle and abuse, but also faith and hope.
The common denominator amidst all of these influences is story; the gift of shared experience and inspiration that we offer one another as our paths cross along the journey. Often, we don’t reflect on how valuable these moments are; the sacred nature of the act of sharing stories with one another. I firmly believe that those times in which people share their story are sacred moments, times of vulnerability and faith. Think about this the next time you hear a story at a cafeteria table, stand around the coffee-maker with colleagues, or share seats next to someone on the airplane. When someone opens up to you to share their story, you are truly treading on sacred ground. Obviously not all conversation are really sharing a story- we all know moment in a conversation when it shifts and deepens from talking about the weather or last night’s game to something that really matters. I believe these moments of shared story are indeed sacred in some way, and we are to welcome these moments with a heightened sense of reverence and acceptance.
Stories are the building blocks of history, the narrative of our lives and traditions. As people of faith, and justice-seekers, I believe we are called to be both sacred listeners and story tellers. We are called to listen to and absorb the stories around us of both pain and joy, stories from the broadest concept of “we” imaginable. If we are called to be advocates for the “common good,” we first must seek to gain an understanding of what our community, our nation, our friends and enemies hold in common and then reflect these values to decision makers. In the tradition of Jesus, we are called to pay particular attention to those stories that would otherwise go unheard, muted either by society or silenced because of individual pain. Sharing these stories with others and policy makers is an act of justice, a step of solidarity. The term “solidarity” is often overused and has in many ways become trite. True solidarity implies not only sharing stories, but speaking and acting in concrete ways that reflect the reality that our stories are intertwined the stories of others- our good depends on ensuring the common good for all.
Today, take stock of the stories you have been blessed to receive and commit yourself to telling yours. Treat these stories, and the people that tell them, as sacred in some way.