Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | January 22, 2018

Changing the story

A current production in Florence, Italy, of the opera Carmen is creating a stir. Why? Because the ending has been rewritten.

The original ending of the opera has the title character murdered by her jilted lover, José. (I didn’t think I needed to issue a spoiler alert for something that’s 150 years old…) In the revised version, Carmen grabs José’s gun and kills him before he has a chance to stab her.

Why? In an article about the change, producers say they wanted to rewrite the cultural narrative about violence—including murder—against women, a tragedy that is prevalent in Italy. The article states: “So frequent are such murders that Italians have a name for the phenomenon – ‘femminicidio’, or femicide.”

When women are treated as lesser-than-men in drama, art, or literature, this societal attitude is reinforced. And that attitude manifests itself in relationships, homes, jobs, even political discourse. Rewriting the narrative enables us to see that women do not have to be at the mercy of the men around them.

It isn’t just gender where there are lesser-than stories of power and violence, whether that violence is physical, sexual, emotional, or cultural. Wouldn’t it be great if we could rewrite the endings of these stories?

In this week’s gospel text from Mark, we read/hear a story about a man with a mental illness. Ancients called his condition a demon, because they couldn’t fathom what else could cause such a problem. The man’s life story was already written, and everyone knew the ending. He’d be ostracized by society, would embarrass his family, and would live his life in that downward trajectory until he died. No way around it. Until Jesus met him and the man was changed.

Jesus wasn’t bothered that the man’s illness made him say weird and horrible things. He looked beyond that and saw someone who needed healing and attention. From that day, the man would be able to live a decent life among his family and friends and in the synagogue. The story of the rest of his life was rewritten.

Jesus gained fame from this act, but I can’t get my mind away from the other man, the “possessed,” the one whose life story was altered by an act of mercy and generosity.

We have many opportunities to write and rewrite the narratives we live, and to contribute to the stories of the people around us.

  • Has your faith community failed because of a downward membership trend? Or would you rather rewrite the story of a congregation that has taken what is likely an inevitable membership decline as a chance to reevaluate its purpose and goals?
  • Are you spending your days and years just going through the motions? Or will you rewrite your own story as a person who helps as many as you can?
  • Do you shake your head at the news? Or will you be someone who helps rewrite the stories of our times by
    • giving shelter to the refugee;
    • speaking out against sexual abuse;
    • making sure that every child has access to healthcare and a good education;
    • supporting candidates who reflect the moral and ethical character of caring for the poor, the forgotten, the ill, the very young and the very old, the stranger;
    • requiring the truth from our public figures.

Last week I watched part of an hour-long special program on ESPN. It was dedicated to the stories of girls and women who have come forward about the sexual abuse they suffered from someone they should have been able to trust. Dr. Larry Nassar treated gymnasts and other athletes in private practice, and also through Michigan State University and the USA Gymnastics team. He sexually abused girls and teens, telling them that what he was doing to them would help their back pain and other issues.

Three things struck me about this television program. 1) The first complaints were made by girls to MSU staff members in 1997. Nothing happened for twenty years. 2) These young women are so courageous to tell their painful stories in order to prevent such horrible acts against other girls. 3) I can’t imagine that ESPN would have run such a program ten years ago. Maybe not even a year ago. The show’s (male) anchor, after watching some of the victim statements, remarked that he couldn’t imagine what emotions those women were experiencing, since he found himself shaking just hearing their accounts. These women are rewriting the endings of their stories.

We are, sometimes, slowly making progress in the rewriting some of the awful narratives of our day. The #metoo movement, along with other forms of awareness and education, are bringing to light the particular issues of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. We can’t change the past, but we can affect the future.

Let’s all get going, with metaphorical red pens in hand. There are so many bad endings that need a rewrite.IMG_6969, low, blog 1-22-18

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

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