By Whitney Tu
With edits, additions and formatting by Stephanie Nannen and Jason Poon
I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.
- G.K. Chesterton
In her 2009 TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story”, Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie describes some of the drawbacks of knowing only one perspective about a community or place:
The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story…It is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity…It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.
Epic rejects the idea that any person or community can fully be defined by a single story. Each person’s story is complex, and overlaps with the stories of others. We recognize that each person’s unique story impacts how they view God and experience the world around them. In the article “Epic Is About Story” we affirm the exploration of these stories, in order to authentically engage with God and others.
We must not limit God to a single story either. The Scriptures tell us that men and women are made in God’s image (Genesis 2:26-31). No one person or community possesses all of God’s image, but each person and community reflects a unique aspect of God’s image. When we open ourselves to new and different stories from others, we can know God more fully. Only then can we connect our story to who God is, find ourselves in his narrative, and begin to write with God, the ultimate Author.
Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus blew up the single stories put forth by others about who God is, what God’s Kingdom is like, who many enter God’s Kingdom, and how we ought to relate to each other. As you read the following example, take note of how Jesus honored the woman’s story, yet pushed her to consider alternatives to the stories she had been told by others in her community about herself and about God.
FOR GROUP STUDY
- Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman, alone, at a well in the desert, around midday. The woman brought up a defining characteristic of her identity: She was Samaritan. There seems to have been a single story about how Jews and Samaritans should interact in that day. But how did Jesus respond to this woman?
- Do others sometimes only see or tell a “single story” about your life? How is this perception incomplete? Do you sometimes struggle to see a different story about yourself?
- John mentioned that Jesus was weary. How does this very human characteristic impact your understanding of Jesus and his story?
- As Jesus introduced himself, the Samaritan woman struggled to understand what he was offering her. In one minute or less, describe something about yourself that no one in this group knows about.
- As the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman continued, what do we discover about the woman’s past? Do you think her past might have narrowed the list of available options she saw for her future? How did her encounter with Jesus change that?
- Jesus revealed his true identity and purpose to the Samaritan woman as an invitation to know him as the Christ. How did Jesus uniquely engage this woman in light of her story? How would it impact your view of yourself, knowing Jesus extends himself to “scandalous” people? How would it impact your view of others?
Jesus knew he was breaking cultural norms by interacting with the Samaritan woman. But he moved toward her anyway, in order to meet her in her personal story and to give her a glimpse of the redemptive story God was writing and offering to her. Jesus crossed gender and cultural barriers to pursue this woman, with the intent to bring her into God’s family. And not just her, but her whole town!
When we open ourselves to the stories of others, we are granted a heightened awareness of God’s presence, purpose, and character. When we see God more fully, we love God more, and we love ourselves and others more as well.
- In order to engage with God and lead others in healthy ways, we must first become aware of our own stories. Can you identify the major stories in your life? If not, take time to write out a timeline of your life. What stories were already unfolding in your family or community, before you were even born? What are the major events that have shaped your life? Where have you lived? What is your role in your family? What stories have others written about you? How has God been involved in writing your story?
- Opening ourselves up to see God, others and ourselves with new eyes can make us feel vulnerable, overwhelmed, and disoriented. Where are you feeling closed to “story?” Where have you been imitating or living someone else’s story, instead of the story God has for you? Where is your own story intersecting (and perhaps coming into conflict with) other stories?
- As you read Scripture, what descriptions of God are most meaningful to you? What aspects of God’s identity are difficult to grasp? What are some characteristics you share with God? Bring these to God in prayer.
- Sometimes our families, as well as the media we consume, perpetuate single stories about other people, communities, or places. Pray for God to help you see where you have an incomplete view of others. Where do you hear him leading you to pursue learning and hearing more? Where do you need to see the image of God within others?
- How well do your team members know each other’s stories? What are some ways to learn about and engage in each other’s stories?
- What are the common threads among your stories? Where are the differences?
- How is the Lord currently using your team to shape your own story?
- How can you encourage each other to be open to new or different stories for yourselves, instead of being limited to the stories you or others previously insisted upon?
- Is there a prevalent story about God told by those in your movement? What is it? How can you help expand students’ ideas about who God is and how God interacts with humanity and the world around us?
- What is the story of your movement? How can you invite those in your movement to own and write the next chapters of the story together?
- Whose stories are not fully represented in your movement? How can you be intentional about expanding your movement to include those with different stories?
- As you look around your campus(es), where do you sense God inviting Epic to become a redemptive presence in the story of others?
- As a movement, set aside time for students to identify and process their individual stories utilizing the “Where I’m From” worksheet.
- Create a “mosaic” of your movement. Give everyone a sheet of paper. Ask them to share (with words or pictures):
- How their story led them to Epic
- What dreams they have for the future story of Epic
- Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature by Peter Scazzero
- How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage by Milan and Kay Yerkovich (Author), Kay Yerko
- The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God by Dan Allender
- Changes That Heal: The Four Shifts That Make Everything Better by Henry Cloud