We have this otherwise banal hymn we do every so often in Catholic Masses that has this rather amazing chorus in terms of the words:
We come to share our story,
we come to break the bread,
we come to know our rising
from the dead.
At first glance, there’s not much here, but it’s really everything about the Mass. For those who aren’t Catholic, we always do Mass in two parts (and we’re efficient as heck with it; when I was Lutheran, we didn’t do communion every Sunday, but when we did it took FOREVER, but I digress). So, the first part is always story-telling. We call it Liturgy of the Word. We read two or three sections of the Bible and share part of the Psalms. After the Liturgy of the Word, we have Liturgy of the Eucharist (the holy communion part). What’s really neat, linguistically, about a Catholic Mass, is figuring out where all the words come from. At one point, we had a poorer translation when it moved to English, for example, and said “Lord, I’m not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Sure, that was LITERALLY what we were preparing to do (remember, Catholics believe that the Eucharist IS the body/blood of Jesus, not a symbol). Instead, we now say, “Lord, I’m not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” If you know your Bible, you’ll know this is EXACTLY what Zaccheus said when Jesus picked him out of a crowd, sitting up in a tree so he could see Jesus walk by. At every Mass, we tell our story, and we tell it over and over again.
If you’re a wordsmith, you can’t help to be fascinated by how various faith traditions share their stories whenever they gather together. It’s their story for them and also to explain to all comers.
I know I’m losing some of the non-religious of you out there, but stick with me. Let me tell you a little story that I saw recently. Have a look here if you want the whole thing. I must admit it originated in Buzzfeed, apparently, but I’m willing to buy it happened because it’s the kind of thing that HAPPENS.
So, Marlee Matlin, award-winning Deaf actress goes up for a role in which the character is (wait for it) Deaf. The role later goes to a hearing person. They later have the audacity to ask Matlin to coach the actress in “how to be Deaf.” What was interesting was, when this was posted on The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, the first comments were that “well, maybe she wasn’t the best fit for the part.” Maybe she wasn’t, but shouldn’t a Deaf actor play a Deaf character? Matlin would likely have coached a Deaf actress who was new or feeling apprehensive about how the hearing audience might “read” her Deafness even if she didn’t get the part herself. This would be an inoffensive request. But to ask her to help someone pretend to be Deaf, which comes with it a culture, a community, and even its own freaking language (btw, American Sign Language (ASL) is not “translated English”…have a look at this great story to get a feel for how the language looks, in print form: http://www.deafpoetssociety.com/raymond-luczak-prose; we were fan-girling (and fan-boying) over this in editing class; it’s a good story, not just a “gimmick”). So, yeah, it’s like saying, well, we needed a Black actress, but we decided a white actress would be fine here, and we’ll find some Black actress to teach her how to be Black.
So, it’s not cool.
Continue reading “Counterstorytelling: Crushing the Dominant Narrative by Telling our Own Stories”