living library

Last week, I had the chance be a book. Not write a book. Or read a book. But be a book.

How, you ask? Well, a local community college (Douglas College) has recently introduced the Living Library, a movement designed to “promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding” amidst the diversity of our pluralistic world. This goal is achieved by participants engaging people instead of just borrowing books.

So, last week I was a book on the topic of religion and culture, with the specific title, “Engaging Our Stories - Living Amidst Spiritual and Religious Diversity.” People could ‘borrow’ me for up to a half-hour and discuss anything related to my topic. For two hours I occupied a small table in the library in which three people signed up to discuss religion and culture with me.

Most valuable was the chance to hear peoples’ stories. I met a woman from Guatemala who grew up Catholic, a woman recently immigrated from Iran who is a faithful adherent to the Baha'i religion, as well as another person who resides in East Vancouver and is intrigued by the shifting role religion has in Canada. All three people I met probably did more talking than me, even though I was supposed to the ‘expert.’ But considering my book title, I didn’t mind. In fact, interacting with these folks simply reaffirmed my belief in the value of sharing our stories.

In a Canadian culture that prides itself as tolerant, we too often tolerate without understanding. You know how it goes: “You do your thing. I’ll do my thing. We’ll all just get along. That’s the Canadian way!” Well, I believe we need more – we need tolerance with understanding. In a culture as diverse as Canada, the idea of simply tolerating fails to address the reality of our differences – differences that in other areas of the world lead to intense conflict both personally and politically. If we simply tolerate, I wonder how long our Canadian peace can last? But when we take the time to understand what’s behind our diverse values and beliefs – i.e. examine how our stories shape our values – we make a very important statement: in the midst of our differences: people are important.

And so as we strive for peace in society, acknowledging our stories can add depth to our tolerance. When addressing differences, an engaging tolerance can equip us to peacefully handle conflict - not because we are a tolerant country, but because we know each other.

And so I think events such as the Living Library are actually quite countercultural (perhaps without even knowing it). Instead of a passive tolerance we’re used to as peace-loving Canadians, the Living Library calls for an engaging tolerance that values peoples' stories. And considering the Christian belief that humanity is created in the image of God and along with all creation was declared “good,” I’m willing to support any efforts in my community that affirm God's view of the world.


Ryan said...

What a fantastic idea! Good for you for making yourself available in that way, and for modeling love of neighbour in such a unique way.

marjorie Warkentin said...

sounds like a fascinating time, David. Glad you had the opportunity. I like the idea a lot. I agree, anytime I can share or hear a story it is a gift. THanks for sharing.

Dora dueck said...

I'm curious -- did you get to choose the title of the book you were, or did the college?

David Warkentin said...

Hi Dora, I got to choose the title myself - but almost by accident my meetings with people took on the nature of my title - "engaging our stories."

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