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Entering into the Story of Others

A Small Group Resource

Entry Point: place of initial opportunity; first access; where we begin.

Everything has an entry point:

  • Our homes offer front, back, and sliding doors as entry points into our lives, our families, our celebrations, and our grief;
  • Educational access points discern and develop different learning engagements for different people based on style, knowledge base, or interest;
  • The shores of our country serve as an entry point for the import and export of goods, as well as immigrants and their dreams;
  • Our stories offer places where we invite people into our experiences, values, hopes, and concerns.

Jesus as Example and Exemplar

As a Middle-Eastern Jew, from a family of craftsmen, Jesus’ life was lived at the margins. He was not considered to be part of the privileged Roman Political Ruling Class, nor was he of the Pharisee or Sadducee Religious Ruling Classes. As a result, Jesus often found himself closely relatable to the very people he sought to heal, deliver, and save. Plus, as both fully human and fully God — there were going to be some very unique differences from us! Jesus’ ability to tap into His own understanding as a marginalized person made it possible, despite differences, to enter into the stories of other people. Jesus was intentional about entering into the lives of others through the common need for acceptance and grace. Jesus personally understood the human need to be accepted into a community, as He, too, found difficulty being accepted within His own.

Barriers to Entering into the Stories of Others

  • Assumption about a particular person or group based on misinformation from outside sources (untrustworthy or partisan news sources; ideologues: persons more interested in ensuring their position than exploring new information; hearsay of third-party sources; unexamined traditions; etc.);
  • Choosing to focus exclusively on external factors such as race, ethnicity, age, or gender instead of being open to the human commonalities within life stories;
  • Limited understanding of other faiths, cultures, and social experiences of others.

Recognizing and Honoring the Entry Points of Others’ Stories

  • Recognize and acknowledge any assumptions: Take a moment to recognize and acknowledge any assumptions you are bringing to an encounter or discussion about a particular person or group. Admit them; pray for God to help you set them aside so you can be open to hearing what the other person has to say. Be aware of your thinking and reactions while in conversation with others when assumptions are triggered for you.
  • Research your research: Critically consider the sources from which you get your information. Do they all say the same thing about the same things? Do they all, and most usually, support what you already think? Widen the horizon of your information sources to include opinions that challenge your own and consider reasons why those differences exist. Check the sources of your sources to ensure their trustworthiness, too.
  • Lead with the similarities while respecting the differences: As you hear or read another person’s or group’s story, be a detective on the lookout for places where your shared humanity shows up. Is this person concerned for the safety of their family? Perhaps you can empathize with your desire for the safety of your family. Does this group value a deep religious faith? Perhaps you can connect on how practicing your faith has been part of your lineage for generations. While connecting with similarities, remember that their specific experiences might be very different and just as real as your own. Resist the temptation to subsume (force) someone else’s story into your own. Connect with the similarities while respecting and learning from the differences.
  • Cultivate an ongoing commitment to and development of intercultural competency: Get to know (at least the basics of) other faiths, cultures, and experiences of others. Check out GCORR’s 10 Honorable Ways to Learn about Other Cultures and other intercultural competency resources. Realize that sometimes we need to widen our understanding or correct misinformation before we are ready to honor someone else and their story.

Questions For You or Your Small Group to Consider

  1. Entering into the stories of others often requires us to know or acknowledge our own “entry points.” Think about times you shared your story with others. Can you identify your shared entry point? Was it a common story around race, difference, or family history? Was it a shared value, belief, or experience? Something else? How can you use this information to build bridges of compassion toward others?
  2. What barriers do you believe are present within your church that restrict people’s ability to connect with others of diverse backgrounds? Consider what types of diversities are present within your church membership and/or leadership. What do you notice? Are there any fears you can name that might present a barrier to your church’s ability to connect with others of diverse backgrounds?
  3. Where do you see opportunities in your church/community to honor shared stories as ministry? What specific, actionable, and measurable steps will you put in place to ensure your church’s ministry with people includes your church’s ability to honorably connect with people and their stories?

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