The context: Storytelling is a powerful modality for encountering the religious “other” (see Peace, Rose, and Mobley's My Neighbor's Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation, Orbis, 2012; also see, “Storytelling as a Key Methodology for Interfaith Youth Work,” by Patel, Kunze, and Silverman in Interfaith Dialogue at the Grass Roots, Ecumenical, 2008). As the Co-director of the Center for Interreligious and Communal Leadership Education (CIRCLE), a joint program of Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College, this is something I have seen illustrated repeatedly in the classroom and beyond. I have used this exercise successfully in both academic and congregational settings.
The pedagogical purpose: To have a first-hand experience of the transformative power of telling your story and listening to the story of another. Listening and being heard are essential dimensions of interfaith engagement.
Description of the strategy:
- Divide your group into pairs (if an odd number, include yourself).
- Ask the pairs to decide who will go first as the “storyteller” and “story receiver.”
- Storytellers have five minutes to share a story of an encounter across lines of religious difference. If they do not have a story about an encounter across religious lines, focus on an encounter across any line of difference.
- Instruct story receivers not to talk or interrupt the storyteller while he or she is talking. After five minutes, receivers will have two minutes to tell their partner the story they heard.
- Instruct storytellers not to talk or interrupt the story receiver during those two minutes. When the two minutes are over, storytellers have two final minutes to respond – to clarify, correct, or explain to the story receiver.
- Repeat the whole exercise reversing roles.
Once both people have had a chance to offer and hear a story, spend 20–30 minutes in a large group debrief. (The whole exercise takes 50–60 minutes).
Why it is effective: Opportunities for deep listening are surprisingly rare. We tend to enter a conversation thinking more about what we are going to say or the point we want to make, than about what our conversation partner is trying to say. The reciprocity built into this exercise is part of its effectiveness. Not only do we listen, but we are listened to. Ours stories can become a transformative space where we can encounter the “Other.”