Listening Dangerously: A Response to Dr. Weichbrodt's "That Looks Dangerous"

Stories have changed my life, and I would like to suggest that they can change your life too. 

My freshman year, I took Introduction to Art History with Dr. Weichbrodt. Since then, I have been so grateful for the thoughtfulness that she gives to her discipline and to the students with whom she so generously shares. That being said, I was absolutely thrilled to hear that she was speaking in chapel. She has instilled in me a desire to look thoughtfully, to seek answers, and to listen to the stories others share even if they make me uncomfortable; and she continued to do so in her compelling lecture.

Sitting in the balcony Monday morning, I knew this would be a chapel I wanted to remember. I was expecting great things. I was expecting to be inspired, to see some works of art and understand them better, and to have that "proud-to-be-an-art-major" feeling.

As Sammie Brown and Nabil Ince sung the words, "Didn't my Lord Deliver Daniel?" I realized that this chapel was going to be so much more than I was expecting. Reading the words "That Looks Dangerous" across the screen filled me with trepidation, but it was more than that. I knew that feeling in the pit of my stomach: someone else's story was going to change my own.

I hung onto every word, tears filling my eyes as I imagined my own features in the reflection of Lorna Simpson's photographs, and ached as I heard the words, "From Here I Saw What Happened... And I Cried... and I did." I was convicted that I too had not been "weeping with my neighbors who are weeping;" and I exhaled with immeasurable gratitude as I repented, and heard the incredible words: "and God, the God who promises to work righteousness, and justice for all of the oppressed, forgave me."

I sat in my seat exhausted and amazed by the grace of our heavenly Father and the generosity of so many artists who have invited me to look at their work and listen to their stories.

Stories, I believe, are one of the most incredible things that make us distinctly human. Stories shape who we are, how we speak to one another, and how we listen. Our stories are filled with moments of joy, like when a child is born breathing though the doctors said it was medically impossible. They surround us in moments of terror when a tornado destroys what we call home. And they bring us to our knees in repentance as we are reminded that we are "called to a deeper love for God and for our neighbor."

Not only are our stories important, but the stories of those around us are as well. In her work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou says, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” If we only tell our story, only celebrate our own joys and mourn our own losses, we will miss the incredible gift that is truly hearing someone else's story.

When we open our hearts and give our attention to someone, whether it is through a conversation, an action, or an artwork, we let that person know that their story is worthy of being told. Too often I have not listened well and instead have counted others' stories as irrelevant to me, but with Dr. Weichbrodt's words I was reminded of how important it is to realize that "[these artists] did not have to give those stories to others, knowing that they might be ridiculed or ignored, but they chose to share them anyway. To give me, an outsider to their community, an entering point to empathy."

I am by no means able to understand the weight of the burdens that my fellow image bearers carry. However, I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn the stories of others through words, actions, and artwork.

Sharing our stories both big and small can be a difficult thing to do, but they are powerful. Seek out "unfamiliar stories," whether through means of conversation or in works of art. Seek out those whom you know well and those whom you have never met. Open your mind to not only those who make you feel full of life and laughter, but also those who make you feel awkward or even uncomfortable. They too have a story, and you never know—their story may change you.