The Danger of a Single Story

 In Pastor Jeff's Blog

“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

Last week I watched an amazing TedTalk entitled “The Danger of a Single Story” presented by Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s about what happens when complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative. Here are a few examples:

  • All Africans are poor and to be pitied.
  • All Asian students are great in math.
  • All poor people are lazy.
  • All illegal aliens are dangerous criminals.
  • All Lutheran pastors are brilliant. OK, that one is actually true ????

Our brains are wired to label and categorize people and situations. It just makes life simpler. The problem is that when we judge anyone by a single story we flatten their reality. We rob them of their full humanity. And we all do this.

The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus pushing against the tendency to embrace a single story. Tax collectors, Samaritans and notorious sinners of all types. Jesus looked beyond the labels and single stories and challenged people to see more. To see the image of God in every living being.

It seems to me that racism and  the divisiveness of culture today grows out of the soil of our tendency to embrace a single story as the definitive truth. And so, I’m asking God to convict me of the single stories I’ve chosen to believe. And I’m asking God to open my eyes to see beyond the surface and catch a glimpse of the beautiful complexity of every human being. And the image of God within. How about you?

You can watch this amazing TedTalk here.

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN.

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  • Paul Gilje

    Thanks, Jeff. In my older age I am trying to look first at every person I encounter in person or by some media as an individual, and not attribute anything to that person based on any sort of category. That’s unfair to the individual. Moreover, I would wish that others would not attribute anything to me based on my faith, gender, age, skin color, residence, residence, birth location, left-handedness, grey hair or anything else. But once I start sharing my goofy thoughts…then all bets are off! Paul

  • Kristine Gunderson

    What a great blog. Thanks, Jeff, for your thoughts on this Ted Talk. It makes me think that if we believe our own lives are richly woven together by multiple stories, and we aspire to see that in others, then the diversity of our communities, schools, congregations and neighborhoods matter immensely in God’s Kingdom. We need to lean into all of those spectacular stories, even when the narrative is immensely different from our own. Thanks to POP for doubling-down on connecting our diverse community in new ways.

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