Putting Stories on my Heart: One Small Step

When I graduated from a smallish Christian college, it felt like I graduated from a Bubble–the kind of bubble where you are “protected” from the ‘world.’ It was a bubble where most people believed the same thing that I believed, and most people looked Scandinavian.

My first job out of college was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me. I started working as an office assistant in a small social service program in Minneapolis. There were six of us in the office. Four African American grown-ups, a young Jewish lesbian, and me. I was out of my bubble. Thankfully, I somehow realized that it was my job to listen with eyes and ears wide open. I heard that my experience of living in Minnesota was very different from my coworker’s experience of living in Minnesota. I heard that racism is very much alive here.

I’m not sure how open my heart was at that time, but I do believe that somehow in the listening, my heart grew when it was ready.

In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer retells an old Hasidic tale illustrating how the tension between reality and possibility can break our hearts open to justice, truth, and love.

“The pupil comes to the rebbe and asks, ‘Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts our closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in.”

Stories have broken open my heart in this very way.

When I listen to someone else’s story, without an agenda, without analyzing, without trying to defend my own story, something happens. It might not happen right away. But something in my heart changes. Something in my seeing changes. Something in my listening changes.

Arguments have never changed my heart. I can’t think of an opinion that has moved my soul. But someone’s story? Stories can break me open.

Sometimes our hearts need breaking. I’m starting to realize that it is really hard work keeping my heart open. It is easy to forget and to numb. Maybe that is part of what it means to live in “privilege.” You get to forget if you choose to.

I want to make space for stories. I want to put these stories on my heart. I pray that eventually these stories work their way into my heart, making space and exposing the dark, hard places inside of me. Those places are there. I pray that love would grow, a love that is active and strong and purposeful and spacious.

There is not much that I can add to the conversation that continues after Charleston, McKinney, Baltimore, Ferguson . . .  But I can listen with an open heart and make space for the stories. These are a few of the stories that have been set on my heart:

Joshua DuBois–The Daily Beast
We Need to Talk About White Culture

Austin Channing
The Only Logical Conclusion

Velynn Brown–at The Mudroom
The Night Jesus Played a Bass and Rocked and Afro

Michael Eric Dyson- The New York Times
Love and Terror in the Black Church

Omid Safi – OnBeing
Is America Possible? Forgiveness, Justice, and Charleston

This isn’t a story, but contains a list of stories and resources on race in the U.S.:

Charleston Syllabus

One More Small Step:
Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis has set up a fund to help rebuild the churches that were recently destroyed by arson.  You can donate here.


 What stories have broken your heart open?  What do we do next?


One thought on “Putting Stories on my Heart: One Small Step

  1. Well said Jessica!
    Thank you for this good reminder.
    Sometimes stories are hard to take in mainly because of fear and a hardened (desensitized) heart… it’s “safer” in the bubble, but oh we miss the richness of others and their stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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