Stock Stories, Hidden Stories, Transforming Stories

by Jean Chagnon, member of First Congregational Church of MN, UCC in Minneapolis

My partner and I have several Lands Ends bags that are “seconds.” These are bags where somebody did an “oops” with the monogram! After getting the bag, we make up a story. For example, we have a bag with the monogram “Mrs Conry.” We decided that Mrs Conroy was a much-loved science teacher. We imagine that the bag was intended as a gift of appreciation from a student who won the state science Olympiad. On one level these stories are fun and comical. Nonetheless, I would offer that the story shapes how we feel about using the bag.

The power of story to shape our reality, our perception, our feelings, and our history is a truth I have learned repeatedly as a healer. The stories my clients tell themselves about what has happened to them, about who they are, about how the world works profoundly shape their sense of identity, safety, and security. Much of my work as a healer is introducing my clients to new stories – stories that expand, transform, and heal.

Once again, I was struck by the power of stories during a training I participated in as part of the conference Anti-racism Ad Hoc group. During this training, we were introduced to the concept of stock stories, hidden stories, and transforming stories. Stock stories are the standard, everyday stories that are told again and again. They come to shape consensus reality and inform how people feel about their life. In contrast, hidden stories are the unknown stories, the stories that are intentionally pushed to the edges. Transforming stories are the stories that open our perception, expand our reality into new, more just, and equitable spaces.

While understanding this framework around stories was itself helpful, the most powerful piece for me was understanding more fully that to create transforming stories one must first know the hidden stories, the stories that are pushed to edges, the stories we want to ignore, to forget. This is a process of acknowledging and honoring what we have sought to dismiss or minimize. In honoring what has not been seen – the hidden story – we create a pathway to transformation.

The Conference Anti-Racism Ad Hoc group is inviting all of us into reflection on the stories that define our consensus reality — stories that have been pushed to the edges, and stories that invite us into an expanded, more just, more equitable way of being together in community. What do you see as the stock story of our conference? What do you believe about who we are, where we began, how we live into our faith? What are the stories that we have collectively pushed to the edges? How might we open our hearts to these stories as a pathway to transformation and a greater vision of God’s beloved community on earth?

© Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ | 2023