Making Stories Sacred

9781641700498The word “consecrate” has a special resonance for Latter-day Saints. The Law of Consecration was once the basis of our social order, and we believe that it will one day be the order of Zion, or the Kingdom of God. To consecrate, from the Latin consecrare, means to make sacred. Anything can be consecrated because everything can be made to serve God. We can consecrate our time, our talents, or treasures, or suffering, and, perhaps most importantly, our stories.

Today marks the publication of one of the most extraordinary acts of consecration that I have ever seen, the book Let Me Tell You My Story, which contains photographs, poetry, and art of and by refugees. The refugees come Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and various nations in Africa. Most of them have found their way to Germany, Italy, or other European nations, often in crowded camps where their futures are far from certain. Their stories matter.

The book is a team effort by the Their Story Is Our Story organization, a group of writers, artists, photographs, editors, translators, and other volunteers who have consecrated their time and their considerable talents to the sacred effort of collecting the stories of a small fraction of the world’s 22.5 million displaced people.

It is a beautiful book on just about every level. The photographs are stunning, the art is beautiful, and the stories are profoundly human. They are, as one might expect, precisely the stories that you or I or just about anyone else would tell if we were displaced by war and brutality and forced to take our families somewhere–anywhere–to protect their lives.

I don’t want to summarize these stories because it is not the summaries that matter We’ve all seen the pictures and engaged in the arguments. Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the civil war in Syria, refugees have become the world’s #1 political problem. Summaries of the collective experiences of these refugees–and even on occasional profile or two–have long been part of the political discussion.

The ugent thing that Let Me Tell You My Story does is transform a political problem into a series of human connections. Through the enormous efforts of the volunteers who put this book together–many of whose stories are interspersed among the stories of the refugees–we can see these people as people. We can listen to their voices in our own language.

Or we can turn away. We can see the problem as too big and too hard and too far away. Without a book like this, turning away would be the only real option that most of us have. Books like this make it at least possible to mourn with those who are mourning–even when they are 4,000 miles away and speak Pashto.

And this is what makes these stories sacred. Nothing is more urgently necessary for people who profess to be religious than to make human connections with people beyond our normal social reach. This is kind of the point of most of the things that we call “the scriptures.” They used to call such people “Samaritans.”

Let Me Tell You My Story is itself a work of holy writ–holy because it makes it possible for us to start fulfilling one of our most important religious obligations. It helps us answer the question “. . . and who is my neighbor?” Once we answer the question, of course, we have to do stuff–we have to start consecrating our own talents and treasures in order to provide relief.

Reading a single book–no matter how beautiful it may be–will not give food and shelter to refugees. That will take a lot of coordinated effort by a lot of people willing to consecrate their time and talents to building the Kingdom of God. All a book like this can do is turn our attention towards the human beings that we have been trying desperately hard not to notice.

If we can do this, though–and I mean really do it, really look people in the face and allow ourselves to listen to their stories–we just might find ourselves unable to look away until we have built the kind of world that our own faith has always told us we can build.

We know where it is. The Kingdom of God is within us. But we have to stop looking where it isn’t.

Comments

  1. Kristin Brown says:

    Would not have known about this book without your post. Thanks Michael.

  2. Thanks for this Michael — excellent review and notice for a direly needed and wonderful project. Their Story is Our Story is doing amazing work. This book highlights a fraction of it.

  3. Thank you so much for this thoughtful review, Michael. It means a great deal.

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