Dear Unbound Family,
Another chapter begins in this storybook I call my life, and that chapter begins with my newfound role as the Managing Editor of Unbound and the Associate for Young Adult Social Witness. It is with great excitement that I join this public witness of how God is working through our church and ourselves to bring about the kin-dom of God and to move us further toward the arc of justice for all.
I recently graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School where I learned the importance of rootedness and acceptance of our full-selves. The faculty and staff of VDS urged us to claim our uniqueness in creation, our passion for justice and our prophetic voice. During my academic journey at Vanderbilt, I found myself going back to my roots more and more. I found myself remembering the ways in which my rural, country, backwoods life taught me about love, taught me about community, and most importantly taught me about the power of story.
I grew up in the small, rural town of Jefferson, South Carolina where I learned the value of storytelling. My grandmother was the best at illustrating our family’s history through her scruffy voice and her hardy laugh that usually ended in a couple coughs because of her smoking. She engrained the tradition of story within each member of our enormous family while also empowering us to stand up and tell our own stories. Not only was she a good orator, comedian, and southern diva…she also yearned to listen. She yearned to listen to us and to walk with us in our sorrows, our joys and in our everyday existence. She longed to be a presence for us and a space that was open. She modeled the prophetic calling of voice, of presence, and of story.
Storytelling is the mode in which we experience the nuances of “the other.” It empowers “the ones” whose stories have been stifled, appropriated for capitalistic gain, used as a weapon or leverage or simply ignored or erased. It is the mode that blurs the lines between political partisanship, exposes the many manifestations of white supremacy, and turns our senses toward the divineness of the human experience where we may experience the Divine. Stories embolden our senses and bring to life the ways in which systemic sin and societal oppressions harm our siblings. Be it queer narratives, black and brown experiences or rural tales, stories must be experienced — experienced intentionally and genuinely.
“Storytelling is the mode in which we experience the nuances of “the other.” It empowers “the ones” whose stories have been stifled, appropriated for capitalistic gain, used as a weapon or leverage or simply ignored or erased.”
It is without question that the false idea of centralized power is embedded within the white-constructed forces that control the narrative of our history, our present, and our future. Those forces have created their own microphones of top-down policy, toxic masculinity, and colonial jargon which glorify power-hungry motives and down-right evil action. These destructive narratives —these false stories — find their ways not only into alt-right movements but trickle down into the cracks and splintering of progressive circles, moderate ideology and supposedly “liberal” agendas. Whiteness and white supremacy invade the entirety of our world and narratives.
As a Reformed and reforming people, we hold central the narrative of Scripture that tells us where our power exists. These stories passed down to us have inspired, revolutionized, and, yes, sometimes harmed. Mark 5:1-20 tells the story of what scholars and theologians label “the Gerasene demoniac.”
They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain;4for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ 8For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ 9Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ 10He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.
14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it.17Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed. (NRSV, Mark 5:1-20)
Mark illustrates for us someone who has been misunderstood by his community. He is too strong for them to contain which leads to his forced restraint through chains and shackles. He is forced to the tombs to live among those who were once a part of his community — he is isolated and alone. The NRSV translates the Greek term κατακόπτω as “to bruise”, but it really means “to cut.” He is cutting himself with stones so that he may physically feel his pain caused by these voices that fill his mind — the voices of those who misunderstand his story.
Christ demands the names of these voices and sends those voices out. The man is now made whole, clothed in understanding. And this scares the people…understanding scares the people. The man then wants to go with Christ, but Christ refuses. “Go home to your friends, and tell them what God has done,” Christ tells him. “Go, tell your story.”
My fellow Unbound siblings, it is my greatest hope that this journal and platform may empower people to go and tell their story because our stories are our power. Our stories will amaze the ones who misunderstand us. Our stories connect us as family. And our stories are enough. Enough to tell what God is doing through them and with them. Enough to call out and name the Legions that keep our siblings down. Enough to break chains and shackles that communities have placed upon us. Enough to silence the voices of systemic oppressions that fill the minds of us all.
“Our stories will amaze the ones who misunderstand us. Our stories connect us as family. And our stories are enough.”
The social activist Su’ad Abudl Khabeer states, “You don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless. Just pass the mic.” So, it is with immense gratefulness as well as intense anticipation that I invite you to continue the journey with me as we also pass the mic to our siblings. Walk with us as we engage the world through our writing and as we explore new ways of creating dialogue and change through music, art, and other creative forms of storytelling. Again, it is a true blessing to be a part of the Unbound family, to join the community of absolutely fabulous editors and to be a witness to you all.
May our stories continue to bring us together as a fierce family of God.
Peace and Power to all y’all,
Managing Editor of Unbound
Associate for Young Adult Social Witness, ACSWP