The Narratives that Shape Us

Before I begin, I would like to start off by thanking Alyssa for asking me to contribute to her blog, Over The Invisible Wall. We met a couple of months back through an entry that she posted to her personal website, and have talked about various topics since.

We do not have the same views on everything, but we did find a lot of common ground through our discussions and through choosing to hear what the other person had to say.

Since then, she has asked me to write about one of the subjects that we talked about in a guest post, and I have done my best consolidate my emails into one (hopefully) coherent blog post. Thank you again Alyssa for giving me the chance to write a guest post for your awesome blog!

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Our narratives are shaped by the lives of those who have gone before us.

Every experience and every piece of information that we take in has a direct impact on how we see ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. We are shaped by stories, and the narratives that we are given by our families, communities, and society at large—for better or for worse. And these stories play directly into how we see each and every person that we come in contact with, every single day.

For instance, if I told you that I’m a twenty-year-old Christian blogger, writer, youth leader, and college student, you’d probably already have some assumptions about me—filling in the blanks for things that I haven’t yet told you.

She probably likes Hillsong, you might assume (in which case, you’d be right).

She was probably a bookworm in high school (this is also true).

She’s probably reads C.S. Lewis (this one is definitely true).

However, if I told you other facts about myself, you might be surprised.

You might be surprised to find that I oppose the death penalty on moral and ethical grounds and cast my first vote to an independent candidate in the 2016 election. You might be surprised to find that I’m a big advocate of gender equality in the home, church, and workplace—and do not subscribe to patriarchy or strict gender roles. You might find it super surprising that I enjoy psychology—and have taken every personality test from the Myers Briggs to the Enneagram (type 2 ENFJ y’all!).

These facts may not coincide with the picture that you have already carefully constructed in your head. Whether you intended to or not, you’ve already prescribed a narrative for me for based on just a few simple facts—without even knowing me at all.

And we do this all the time, right? Name off any number of occupations or descriptors and we can immediately create a picture of that person in our minds: Teacher. Doctor. Librarian. Photographer. Dentist. Lawyer. Fashion Designer.

All of these people are subject to stereotypes and potentially false narratives. All because we’re conditioned from a young age to think of people in an extremely simplified and one-dimensional way. And in some cases, this can be more than problematic. It can be detrimental.

 

Specifically, to those who are LGBTQ in our churches, our schools, and our society.

Growing up in a mostly Christian context, I’ve heard basically every stereotype about gay people that you can think of. They’re promiscuous. They hate God. They live wild “lifestyles.” You name it, I’ve heard it. Multiple times.

However, the older I got, and the more I started trying to construct my own narrative of the world, the more I started to hear other things about gay people as well. You can’t help who you love. It’s not something you can change. It’s not a choice. And slowly I began to question my previous assumptions and the narratives that I’d heard about gay people for so long.

“What if they’re wrong?” I wondered. “What if it’s really not a choice?”

After all, wouldn’t someone who was actually gay know more about this than me—or the countless other voices around me who were speaking so authoritatively on this subject? And if it wasn’t a choice, then where did that leave me, as a Bible-believing Christian?

After all, if it wasn’t a choice, than it had major ramifications for both my assumptions and the lives of real, living, breathing people made in God’s image. It meant that there could even be Christians out there who were gay—Christians who grew up going to church and youth group, just like me. And if there were gay Christians out there, then where on earth did that leave them?

 

Eventually, after a lot of questioning and shifting back and forth between viewpoints, I finally got up the nerve to ask these kinds of questions, and not so much to my surprise, I was right. People didn’t choose to be gay and there were gay Christians out there. But, the picture also wasn’t as bleak as I once thought.

Over the course of my research, my reading, and my questions, I discovered some pretty interesting things—both about God, and about the lives of various, real people.

One, that all of those passages in the Bible that people always use to condemn people who are gay don’t speak about sexual orientation. Nowhere. Not once in the Bible does it ever speak of someone who has a gay orientation. Every verse that describes ‘being gay’ as a sin refers only to lust and sexual acts outside of a Biblically defined marriage ( sleeping around and lust is also considered a sin in Christianity for those of us who are straight).

Second, I learned that there were are a lot more gay Christians out there than one might think—and many of them, though facing struggles at various points in their lives, are genuinely happy. They’re pursuing celibacy and pouring into loving and healthy friendships. They’re in a mixed orientation marriage with the one person of the opposite sex that they’re attracted to. They’re teaching at colleges, leading churches, involved in mission work, and speaking for those who can’t speak. They’re redefining what ‘gay people’ look like to the Christian world and the broader world. And most of them simply want to be understood.

 

Through reading these articles, and listening to these voices, and hearing the stories of real people, I’ve grown to see how vital it is that those of us who are Christian get this right. There’s a very real chance that we already know someone who’s gay—whether it be a co-worker, a friend, a student, or the guy who sits next to us in church. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to add pain to someone who has likely already endured far too many sleepless nights thinking about this. I want to be a light and speak life into the lives of other people and the only way I can do that is by listening—both to those who share my convictions and to those who don’t.

As humans we will someday be remembered for how we chose to live our lives. I don’t know about you, but I want to be known for my love. In 1 Corinthians 13:2 (NIV), it says, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

 

Regardless of who you are or what you believe, I want to challenge you to love boldly. To listen to the stories around you and try to understand people right where they are. We do not have to add to the division that already permeates this world so forcefully. We can choose to listen, rather than shout. We can choose love over hate.

We can choose to create the culture that we want to live in.

 

We can choose to be a voice that impacts a generation.

 

We can choose to be a light—and make this world just a little bit better and more compassionate than it was before.

 

Courtney Whitaker is a writer, a reader, and a lover of all things cats, warm tea, and Hallmark. She is currently a youth leader at her church and pursuing a double major at Liberty University in Education and Theology. In the future, she would like to teach and write books geared towards teens and young adults. You can find more of her writing on 1timothy412girl.com, where she posts weekly about all things faith and life.

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Can a Bully Reform?

Picture this:

You’re in the supermarket deliberating if the prices for eggplant are worth it or not, when a stranger approaches you. You’re naturally wary and your mind races through all the possible outcomes of this encounter. The stranger calls you by name; by now, you try to place a name on this other person but your mind comes to a blank.

They also apologize, even daring to hug you at the end.  In the midst of all this, all you want to do is push this person off and run for your life. But you don’t. You politely wait until the hug is over and quite blatantly ask for their name. The person is hesitant but after a few moment’s pause, complies. He says his name is Ian and suddenly the memories come flooding back to your mind.

Ian was the name of the semi-popular boy in high school that bullied you for four years straight. He mocked you everyday for dressing poor and called you every name in the book. He made fun of your appearance because you wore braces at one point. The calmness you had faded; anger sparked and all you wanted to do was bop Ian with the eggplant. You didn’t buy his nice act for one minute because if it was one thing you knew, it was that bullies didn’t change for the better.

 

Would that have been you? Would you have accepted Ian’s changed behavior or would you have held onto the past, refusing to acknowledge his good work?

Many of us encounter bullies, be that at our school, the workplace or even our own homes. Bullies aren’t something everyone wants to talk about, especially when it comes to them changing.

Before we get into that, let’s define a bully: a bully is a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

Teasing someone about their appearance is bullying. Forcing someone to do your homework is bullying. Making fun of someone online is bullying.

It’s often hard for us to accept that change is possible with everyone, even our worst enemy. We don’t think they’re capable under all that cold exterior, when in reality it happens more than we think it does. Society tends to say change isn’t possible, the church says it is. Which is more reliable?

My pastor has often said that hurt people hurt people.

He’s right — when we’re hurting, we tend to want to lash out at those who are happy or have it better than us. It’s a common variable. It’s especially prominent when it comes to revenging those who have hurt us. We want them to feel the pain, we want them to suffer. Scoffing at Ian’s apology or giving him the cold shoulder and watching his face drop with disappointment would be satisfying to that part of us that still feels hurt but most definitely not the best way to handle such a situation.

Does this change your perspective a little? Take that leap if you encounter one, give them a smile and most of all, realize that they’re trying.

 

Erica is Potterhead who enjoys writing, doing tricks on her skateboard and is a huge lover of Batman. She’s about to start her second year of college in hopes of becoming a surgeon in the future.

Parenting: Featuring my Upbringing

“Don’t you guys fight at all?” a young friend asked me as she watched my siblings interact at a youth retreat.

I paused for a moment to think.

“Come to think about it, no,” I replied.

Every time I give that answer, people look at me like I just told them I have superhuman powers.
Culture has gotten to the point where everyone believes that it’s normal for families to be at odds with each other constantly. I wasn’t raised like that.

It goes back to parenting. I owe my perspective and confidence to my parents, who modeled what relationship was supposed to be. Here are some ways they raised us that differ from “normal” parenting.

1. I never heard my parents raise their voices out of anger or frustration.
I don’t understand why anyone thinks they are going to prove a point by yelling. Here’s the thing: humans are selfish. They tend to think of each situation from their own perspective. This perspective will only be strengthened if others throw opposing opinions loudly in their faces.

Children are individuals. I think parents forget this often. They try to mold their kids into a certain behavior pattern that hopefully holds up as they grow into adulthood.And when the child shows his individuality by contesting a parent’s wish, mom or dad freaks out, trying to frantically put the nice behavior pattern back together. Yelling tends to be preferred approach.

Parents are to be guides, not slave masters. They have in their hands the life of an individual. Using forceful tone to prove a point only hinders.
(There was one exception to the yelling in my life. If there was an emergency, then was the time my parents used the powers of their voices. This way, we learned to act quickly and without question in the face of danger. We knew instinctively that there was a reason for the tone our parents took on. Even then, it was only one quick word, then they would reduce to normal levels to talk us through emergency procedure.)

2. My parents always heard my opinion.
This goes back to the individuality concept. Many times kids don’t want to do what their parents ask because they don’t understand the reasoning behind the request. My parents didn’t just tell us to do things because they said so. Instead, we talked about the situation that caused them to come to their decision.

When dad and mom were wrong, they admitted it. If my ideas were worth putting into action, they reconsidered their position. If my opinion was faulty, I was never the worse for speaking my mind and hearing the whole process of reasoning.

The result? I trusted my parents enough to do things just because they said so. I knew that they had solid reasoning behind their decisions, and I based my actions off that knowledge.
You can’t build a relationship by shutting down the voice of your child. Instead, focus on setting precedent by hearing his or her ideas and expressing your position genuinely.

3. Honesty was always the first priority.
We knew that we had an alibi if we would only tell the truth. My parents always heard us out. We didn’t get punished for making mistakes, but we weren’t spared if we lied about our actions.

Mistakes are a part of life. My parents taught me to realize that facing those mistakes head-on is the best key to personal growth.

Honesty also helped my relationships grow stronger. If we had quarrels as children, we knew that if we were honest, we would be given the chance to fix our wrongs and move on. This birthed healthy relationship mindsets in our hearts.

Now, we are simply honest with each other about our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. This keeps our relationships open and solves any problems that might come up. We have hard conversations, but we leave with stronger connections than we came with.

Did my parents do everything right? Absolutely not. But I appreciate the mindsets they built in me and I apply many of the same principles they taught me to my interactions with children today.
And if and when I have kids, I will be sure to use these three tools daily.

Lolita Allgyer is a passionate self-educator that loves anything that challenges her thinking. She is currently a Marketing Associate for Praxis, an apprenticeship program that seeks to help young people propel their careers. She also manages a podcast called Educationeering, where she interviews critical thinkers and trailblazers about their views on education. She writes every day on her blog or other mediums like Quora. You can find her work at lolitaallgyer.com.