My friend, Howard Pinder, came up with this great idea. The “Tell Me Your Story” sign. I’ve been emulating him at the University of Pennsylvania this week. It’s pretty fun! People look at me when I’m holding the sign, many look away when I meet their gaze, they look away and smile. Many give a thumbs up or say they like my sign, only a few tell me their story but enough people do for me to be excited about doing it again.
I’m breaking down the barrier between us. I’m inviting people to escape their cynicism and fear for a moment. I’m doing something weird that breaks the monotony of those who are just passing by. Those who stop to talk are interested in why I’m doing this. “What is this for?”, “Is this for a class?” Nope, I’m just a local pastor looking for friends. I think everyone has a story worth telling because everyone is valuable in God’s eyes. You’re important so what happens to you is important. I want to listen because I think it’s good for me to honor your importance and give you my ears as gifts. I usually tell people about Circle of Hope because they want to know what sort of church has a pastor that does this sort of thing. It’s a great opportunity to meet the next partner.
5 stories I’ve heard:
1) A man from India is here visiting his niece. He runs a green technology company in India that makes less money than his old company but he is more satisfied with the more meaningful work. His Hindu faith influenced him passively by instilling in him a reverence for nature that he wants to protect with his business. He told me how he decided to change his vocation after a conversation with a friend.
2) A first generation immigrant from Afghanistan lost her dad to cancer 2 years ago when she was a freshman. She realized then that there is more to life than economic success and being “the best.” She wishes more of her peers at Penn would learn this because she is sick of the elitism she perceives among them.
3) A woman grew up on a farm in South Dakota with her 10 younger siblings. She was sort of Mom #2 to her youngest siblings. One morning, one of her brothers busted a gash in her other brother’s forehead with a golf club. The whole clan climbed into the van and went into town to get him stitched up. It wasn’t a big deal to her–a real pioneer!
4) At his senior show, a guy got a few friends to sing “I get by with a little help from my friends” by the Beatles with him. Thy all sang to another friend who was part of the show too. It sounded like an episode of “Glee”
5) A woman waxed nostalgic about watching boys play football on her street in Detroit. She misses the strong sense of community she experienced as a kid. She feels a bit isolated in her current circumstance.
People are looking for connection. People have a story to tell. I make the cell group I lead about telling our stories all the time. In telling our stories we get to listen to ourselves tell it. Our fears often feel less frightening once externalized. Our hopes often feel more real when shared. Taking the risk to connect, especially with people we don’t know or with whom we don’t have an automatic affinity is one way that we can experience Jesus’ love. Uncanny bonds and unexpected discoveries are made on a regular basis in places where Jesus is at the center. A sense of belonging comes quickly and a warmth that defies easy explanation. That’s the “safe place” we say we are. That’s the “safe place” next to Jesus. I felt some of that even with strangers on Locust walk this week. I wonder how deep this will go.
[Check out tellmeyourstoryphilly.com for some of Howard Pinder’s collected stories]