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As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

Everyone has a story, although not every tale finds listeners. In her novel Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi puts these words in the mouth of one of her characters, a teacher: “We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, ‘Whose story am I missing?’” Of course, to remind ourselves to ask that question—whose story am I missing?—is no easy task, as this gripping novel makes clear.

It is also a book that the powerful have banned, which makes it necessary to add this about the present: the one who has the power often gets to write the story. Likewise, the impulse to silence or sideline a voice that challenges the powerful doesn’t play out only when we study history. When we study the present, too, we need to ask ourselves whose stories we’re missing because, perhaps, those are the ones we need to hear the most.

This spring, we had thousands of readers and writers—myself among them—gather at the Calvin University Festival of Faith &Writing to find some stories we’ve missed. More than 80 writers from many faiths and cultures and with diverse identities, experiences, and politics gathered to share stories that pull those who listen in multiple directions. In fact, we’re often asked to pay attention to different, sometimes irreconcilable, narratives about how we got here to this moment and place.

Because, as Gyasi’s teacher suggests in Homegoing, it’s not enough to know whose stories we’re missing. “Once you have figured that out,” he says, “you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect picture.”

It’s a challenge that I embrace, and it’s a challenge I encourage my fellow readers and writers to embrace. I believe we are all called to embody this work—to search for the “imperfect” stories sometimes overlooked—working against our own easy, often unconscious, habit of listening to the stories that suit us at the expense of those that challenge us. In doing so, we find truth in places we would not have looked for wisdom. Sometimes we change our minds. Without fail, our sympathies widen. I will not say that nothing chafes. I will not say that it does not take time before, given a host of perspectives, we “begin to get a clearer picture” of this world we share, of how we should live in it. And I won’t deny that it is a “still imperfect picture.”

The picture is imperfect in at least two ways. First, it’s imperfect because our stories are imperfect. With stories, as with data, a larger sample size increases the accuracy of our perceptions, but we are all, at least occasionally, unreliable narrators, both in ways we choose and in ways we cannot help. Second, the picture is imperfect because the world is imperfect.

Story, though, is a provision for not just studying the world as it has been and the world as it is. It is also a provision for imagining the world as it could be. And that’s what we should, collectively, long for: a world in which every imperfect story is allowed to be shared, creating a landscape that’s both beautiful and flawed, that’s both difficult to take in and riddled with human compassion. After all, that’s how we gain greater awareness and deeper understanding.

My colleague and friend Jennifer Holberg writes about this in her book Nourishing Narratives. “We only see part of the story, and then dimly,” she admits, “and the challenge is that we must imagine the ‘what is to be.’ Nevertheless, the invitation is to live into a different story—to imagine something so diametrically opposed to most of the lessons that everything around us seems to be aiming to teach us—is not a call to false hope. Indeed, it is the only way to any sense of peace.”

This way of thinking, this invitation to live into a different story, has lent me—and thousands of others who have carried this mantle—glimpses of that peace, teaching me that imperfect stories, and especially the overlooked tales, are what we must all work harder to share. Because it takes many stories—not just the familiar or polished ones—to remind us that we are not alone in our broken narratives, in our flawed humanity. May we, then, embrace the multitude of stories around us, helping to create a future that is kinder and more just, where no one is without a voice but where (to borrow a phrase) we have each learned to “listen louder than we sing.”

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