Storytellers and standing in the presence of the big question: who am I?

Welcome to post number three of four for my independent study on adults and lifelong learning! I had a lot of fun collecting my thoughts and questions in my first two posts on describing the current situation of adults in American life. All of this is heavily informed by Robert Kegan’s In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.

This week I want to consider how this class has impacted my understanding of my 6-session, small group, faith-based Storytellers curriculum. Yes, I write curriculum, for fun, for faith communities. I didn’t like what was out there so I made my own. That’s not true, or all the way, I just wanted to contribute my own particular flavor to the mix. It’s amazing how few resources are out there for adult curriculum but MONSTEROUS amounts of resources of Sunday school and children’s curriculum. Perhaps an example of the vacuum of churches understanding the value of lifelong learning? Let me rephrase that: The church does not often place a high value on adults’ capacity to learn and widen their worldviews. Granted, another programmatic need is not what churches look for. But this isn’t a program and the need for adults to feel affirmed and valued in their continued learning of themselves, their neighbors, and their world in this day and age is just too important to ignore. (/off soapbox)

So, quickly let me summarize Storytellers and how it came to be (in it’s current form):

In my commute to Trinity Lutheran in Stillwater, MN from St. Paul in 2014 I heard a TED talk that featured storytellers like Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her experience of being stereotyped by her college roommate led her to write and speak about the danger of the single story. She argued that the danger of a single story of a person is that the whole self, the complex self, is watered down to a single characteristic, a single image, or a single story. Danger! I agree with Adichie, we are all complex, have many stories, and have many dimensions, and change and grow from one day to the next.

I wanted to make a tool that helped congregations come to this same conclusion: to see their stories collected in the form of word art, displayed in a public space so they would remember, often, their identity, and that God’s story is speaking through all of their stories. So, in concert with some strategic thinking going on as a staff, I created Storytellers based on the five emerging values of the congregation. Each value is embedded in each of the five prompts. Each are explored, one per session, with the phrasing, “Tell me a story of… when you served your neighbor,” or, “Tell me a story of… when you realized you had something to say about God,” etc. We piloted it as a staff, and I asked participants at the ELCA Youth Network Extravaganza in Detriot to pilot in their congregations too, in their small groups.

Imagine this folded in half like a booklet, full of doodles and stories and phrases like "I remember when..."
Imagine this folded in half like a booklet, full of doodles and stories and phrases like “I remember when…”

I think what I’ve learned about the cultural expectation of adults has a major impact on how I hope people will interact with the Storytellers curriculum. For instance, how might someone in a 3rd order consciousness interact with Storytellers? How might someone in a 4th order consciousness interact with Storytellers? If you need reminding what these 1-5 levels of consciousness are as outlined in Robert Kegan’s book In Over Our Heads, watch this easy-to-follow illustration by illustrator, pastor and PhD candidate (Luther Sem, Congregational Mission and Leadership) Steve Thomason:

So according to Kegan, someone with a third order consciousness can differentiate between themselves and another person, but they also have the ability to abstract, or have and create ideas. They know themselves (self-conscious), but they don’t yet see their ability to self-author or design/create new realities for themselves. They can place themselves in society, but don’t see society as a place or people that is impacted by them. Kegan equates this consciousness as characteristic of the traditionalist (pre-modern) era.

Fourth order consciousness builds on third order’s person ability to abstract by seeing themselves as capable of self-authorship. They see that the society they inhabit is just one society among many societies in the world. They start to see the relationships between relationships – or what you might say they ‘acknowledge boundaries’. Kegan equates this consciousness as characteristic of the modern era.

Now between these two, it’s easy to say “4 is better!” But I have to remember that this model is not for the sake of identifying whose better, but where are we at for the sake of being empathetic with our neighbors. Not to “feel sorry for them” but truly, to walk in their shoes, and demonstrate genuine empathy for each other in a world that is often hostile to different ways of knowing or different ways or learning or “being smart.” I think for Storytellers, I have to step back and think through, “What’s being asked of participants?” They’re asked to be honest, vulnerable, reflective on their life through the lens of these prompts, and see themselves as complex individuals with lots of stories and layers. Basically, they have to ask “Who am I?”

Storytellers asks participants to reflect on their life in an identity-forming way. I think this might create some anxiety within third-order thinkers because it’s asking them to not only be conscious of themselves, but be self-authoring, a trait of a 4th order thinker. But what Storytellers could do is provide a frame or a structure within which they can explore these big reflective questions (as expressed by my Prof. Mary Hess). The structure might ease their anxiety, and the questions or prompts might offer just the right amount of challenge to help them move into a 4th order way of thinking.

Photo by Markus Spiske / Design by Alice Mongkongllite for BuzzFeed

Now I don’t believe one small group curriculum can shift a person’s thinking overnight, but it could be one step, albeit small. It might help a person see that in the midst of all their stories, and all their friends’ stories, is a story of God redeeming, sustaining, and breathing through creation – breathing through them.

I think Kegan’s model of the 1st-5th consciousnesses could really provide a richness for thinking through more deeply how a participant might interact with Storytellers. Even though it might be small, it is kind of cool to think that something I created could make a difference, at least a small difference, in how someone sees their life and other’s lives as valuable and beautiful.


Stories: Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Hello friends. I’m not exactly back in a rhythm after my lent practice of writing about mira voce. But an idea has sparked in me a couple months ago that just won’t extinguish.


Remember my rant a few months ago about being valued a young adult (which is great, but it was only a young adult) when I was at a stewardship conference? Well that fire hasn’t gone out. Having your passions, interests, experiences, leadership ignored is not fun. But here’s the thing: I know I do it, too. Churches, families, you, me – we all accidently prescribe a single story on a person, and see them as that one thing. Oh, you’re the kid. You’re the older woman. You’re the musician. Therefore, you should be in confirmation; you should be in Women of the ELCA; you should play music at every event that requires music.


Plenty of people don’t do this pigeon hole-ing. But we all slip into it: You. You have one story: your race, your religion, your job, the way you vote, your car, your sexuality. I’m going to ignore your God-given complexity and beauty so it’s easier to interact with you. Your one story is how I will understand and interact with you.

There needs to be a movement that stops this. A movement that says, “You are more than that one thing.” We all have more than one story. We all have a story of how we’ve felt that there’s something bigger out there than us – call it God, the universe, the one, unity. We also, all have a story of where we’re from. We all have a story of helping someone, and how that felt.

All my stories are told through rose-colored glasses. Sure I have sad stories, but at the core of me, I’m a pretty positive person.

So as I tell my story for the next 5 weeks, I want you to do the same. Tell me your story. Dare to be seen. Share the glasses you wear. Besides, there’s only one you. The stories you hold, and the glasses that you wear are the only ones in the world. Contribute your story and I’ll make a wordle of each week’s contributions.

Starting next week, I’ll tell a story of when I:
1. Served my neighbor

2. Felt like a follower of Jesus

3. Stewarded all I have and all I am

4. Realized I had something to say about God

5. Felt uniquely designed to make a difference

I’ll tell one story each week. I hope you’ll tell one too. I’m so jealous of The Strangers Project. That would be a dream to create something like that with lots of people’s stories. But for this series – contribute your story in the comments or email me with #stories (Twitter DM @allisonsiburg), anonymously or not by Mondays at 11am CST. Contribute a story of when you served your neighbor by next Monday.

God’s story is speaking through all of ours. It’s not done. I tell my stories #thrurosecoloredglasses. What about you?

Mira voce: now I know

This post is part of a series of reflections during Lent. This year for Lent I’m trying to create more than copy once a week, inspired by the Portuguese phrase mira voce, prominently featured in my jam “Mira,” by Melody Gardot.

I’ve had such a hard time figuring out how to close out this Lenten series, hence I haven’t written in a few weeks – eek – so, not good, but now I think I know what I want to say.

I started this mira voce series with the intent of creating something new on a weekly basis instead of copying or imitating people or online things. But as I listen to this song (nsfw-ish; G-rated version starts at 1:28) now, on the other side of this series – on the other side of Easter Sunday – I’m realizing I was so taken by this song and this phrase because mira voce is all about celebrating life and its surprises. A celebration – an honest to God celebration of the miracle of life – of this undeserving, inexplainable phenomenon of you waking up this morning not by your own will, but by something else. A something else that I’m courageous enough to say is God saying, “I’m not done with you yet!” I think God says, “There is more I want for you, more I dream for you, more I wish you to see and you to exclaim in awe ‘Holy buckets!'” or translated in Protugese: mira voce.

Good Easter Morning, Trinidad. 2008.
Good Easter Morning, Trinidad. 2008.

I’ve had these mira voce moments all over the map this past Lent. I realized it’s okay to have different interests and passions than my significant other (with the help of Mindy Kaling). I realized how fervently alive the fire is within me, still, to travel and be bathed in sunshine and that’s a desire to travel that I won’t loose any time soon. I learned that making friends after grad school is rough but not impossible – and choosing a good attitude about that and other things can make or a break a 60 minute cardio workout (this is a big deal, people). I shared my voice with other young people who are sick of getting asked “How do I get more young people to come to my church?” when we’re standing right there in front of them, hungry to serve and make a difference in the world but are rarely challenged to. I was also inspired by Chimananda Adichie’s TED talk that helped me see that we are all storytellers who are beautiful, complex, unique, and have way more than one story to tell. 

This might be the end of this series, but it is certainly not the end of moments when you or I feel a tug or a tap on the shoulder that says “Look at that!” – mira voce – because God is not a proper noun; God is a verb. God is set loose in the world in resurrected joy as pieces of inspiration, as the inspired, and as the one who taps you on the shoulder and says “Look at that!” The women who saw the first evidence of Jesus’ resurrection were not merely “property” as they were economically and socially valued in the first century, but were people of courage, inspired enough to tell others what they saw. They were brave enough to tell others their mira voce moment.

My hope is that you look out for those moments that take your breath away. Look out for those opportunities to be brave and speak something new into existence by saying “look that that!” – mira voce – because I have a sneaking suspicion that the world needs more people brave enough to say what has brought them to life.

So thank you, Melody Gardot, for such a beautiful song to inspire this series. It’s been so much fun to play, reflect, write, and be present in this theme over the last couple months. I can’t wait to see what’s in store as I keep my eyes open to more mira voce moments in the world, and as I travel into a new blog series!

This blog has no ownership or rights to music by Melody Gardot or Verve Music Group.

Mira voce: storyteller

This post is part of a series of reflections during Lent. This year for Lent I’m trying to create more than copy once a week, inspired by the Portuguese phrase mira voce, prominently featured in my jam “Mira,” by Melody Gardot.

This week’s mira voce moment came to me in a Starbucks drive-thru near our St. Paul apartment. I had planned on working from home yesterday, but since family is in town much of this week, I figured this was one of my only shots at being physically present at work. I knew after some morning commitments I would need a little boost, so I got Starbucks before I went to work for the afternoon.

Cinnemon Dolce Latte (decaf, of course). Yes, I jumped over summer straight to fall, but honestly. The fall is magical. This drink smells like fall, books, falling orange leaves, smiles, falling in love, welcome back, welcome home, brick.

Before I dropped Timothy off at home, he switched on the TED Radio Hour podcast, with this week’s theme of “Reframing the Story.” Fifty minutes well spent. The show jumped around to a highlight a few different previous TED speakers – the author of “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” a Pixar filmmaker, a book cover designer, and a Nigerian novelist. I just loved how they had their own unique ways of telling us listeners that stories matter – our complex, ugly, beautiful, lifelong, surprising stories matter.

So Timothy and I budget $10 per two weeks for my coffee habit. So I received my drink in the drive-thru and was waiting for the nice Starbucks barista to refill my card when it hit me.

We are all storytellers. Not just these four TED speakers. We are all storytellers.

I’m still hot on my heals from last week’s post about an experience where I felt like my church (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) only valued me because of my age, not for my unique strengths, desire to serve my neighbors, passions and dreams to contribute to the world.

In this TED episode, novelist Chimamanda Adichie talked about the danger of the single story. She’s grew up in a middle-class home in Nigeria and shares a story of her family’s domestic help, a “house boy,” who lived in poverty outside the city with his family. One day her family visited the boy’s home. She saw a beautiful hand-woven basket his brother had made. She had only heard of this family’s poverty, so it was out of the question to think that they had any other identity (artists). The danger of the single story is that it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Do we do this to people at church? Do we quickly assess an individual and assign a ministry or group or event based on just one element – one story – of them? You look like a teenager… Oh, we have confirmation for them! You look like an older person… Oh, we have a small group for them!

I’m not saying that this is the case for every church. But it’s a temptation that I think every church faces. We must split you up by, you name it, age, interest, political-leaning. But if I’m being honest, I see it mostly by age.  Just last month I was asked to be on a team because I was young. I am more than a young person:

I am a theologian (just like you).

I am a steward.

I am confused by Jesus and inspired by Jesus.

I am in service to my neighbor.

I am in constant wanderlust.

I am secretly plotting to take over the world with love, puppies and sparkling heart confetti.

I am a lifelong Seattle Mariners fan. I remember the first time I walked into the Kingdome with my dad.

I am someone’s other half and I couldn’t be prouder.

I am a recipient of a master’s degree.

I am a west coaster at heart. I dream of living three blocks from the beach in a home decorated with my Pinterest boards.

I say all these statements to show that each of us are complex human beings. None of us have a single story. We’re made up of past and present experiences, “ah-ha!” moments, relationships, families, lingering questions. We all have a very big story to tell.

What’s your story?

Stay tuned for next week’s closing post of this series!

This blog has no ownership or rights to music by Melody Gardot or Verve Music Group.