Sunday, March 19, 2017
Third Sunday of Lent

Talking Story
Rev. Danette Kong, Guest Kahu

John 4:5-42


That term, “Talk Story,” is understood by most “locals” here in Hawai`i, but there may be many of you in this congregation who don’t know the term. Formally, it is known as Mo`olelo -- the tradition of sharing important stories to preserve them for future generations. But it’s also the everyday phrase we use for chatting with each other in a comfortable, laid-back way, sharing our personal stories.

I grew up here in Hawai`i, perhaps unconsciously “talking story” with friends and family as part of our everyday life, and especially at meals around the dinner table. But in my early twenties I became the beneficiary of someone reaching out to me THROUGH Talk Story in order to build a relationship that would help me find my way. That “someone” was a social worker and ordained Christian minister by the name of Glenn Harada. Glenn happens to be the younger brother of Taka Harada -- who is one of our beloved kupuna and a leader of this church.

I had left the seminary in Louisville, KY, where I had been working toward a Master of Church Music. In the second year of my studies, I began to feel a calling which bothered me deeply, and I could not understand it. I was feeling a call to study in the Divinity program, but as a good Southern Baptist girl, that just didn’t feel right 40 years ago. Besides there were over 2,000 students in the seminary, and approximately 1,000 of them were enrolled in the Master of Divinity program. All of them were men, except for four brave and plucky women -- and they received a lot of grief and derogatory statements because of that. I was still in my early 20s and not willing to go through that kind of stress -- besides, I, myself wasn’t quite sure if women should be in positions of pastoral leadership. So, rather than deal with that struggle, I left seminary and returned to Honolulu, where I was hired by my church to plan worship services and coordinate the music program and food pantry.

Glenn had his office in our educational building, and would join us for coffee breaks. He invited me to come Talk Story in his office, and would occasionally share books with me about ministry. One day he asked me, “Have you ever considered becoming a hospital chaplain?”

Up until then, I had no idea such ministers existed. Forty years ago, there were no full-time hospital chaplains* in our state to minister within our diverse culture (*except at the Castle Medical Center, operated by the Seventh-Day Adventists; at St. Francis Hospital, run by the Catholic Diocese; and at the Hawai`i State Mental Hospital in Kaneohe. Its first and long-time chaplain was the late Rev. Kikuo Matsukawa, a dear friend of our family’s).

To make a long story short, Two years later I returned to seminary and enrolled in the Master of Divinity program, eventually becoming a hospital chaplain. The seed was planted Talking Story with, and receiving encouragement from Glenn Harada.

As I see it, there are five main requirements for Talking Story, and you might think of more.

  1. Time -- you must be willing to give of your time to Talking Story (you can’t invite someone to Talk Story, but then say, “Oh, but I have to be somewhere in five minutes!”)
  2. A comfortable, safe setting (over a meal, over a cup of coffee, at the beach, or even in a church pew)
  3. Active Listening which is based on a genuine interest in the other person or persons
  4. A willingness to let go of preconceived notions about the other person (a willingness to set aside your judgments and biases about the person in order to discover who they really are)
  5. Simply, to treat each other with RESPECT


Very often I would need to respond to crises of an emergent nature. These would be things like unexpected or impending deaths in the Emergency Room, on the Operating table, or on a hospital unit. They were heart attacks, drownings, car accidents, strokes, stillbirths, suicides and murders. In those situations, there is usually a frenzy of activity as the staff is rushing around trying to save a life, the police might be involved, and family members are are in shock trying to contact loved ones or just come to terms with the reality of the patient’s condition. In these situations, there really is no opportunity to Talk Story; more often my function was to be of spiritual and emotional support to both family members and staff.

But there have been those special moments which occur more within visits to patients, family members, or staff, who needed to Talk Story. There could be a number of reasons why a patient has asked to, or been referred to a chaplain. Perhaps he has just received a devastating diagnosis about his life expectancy, or a life-threatening surgery he needs to have. Perhaps it is a woman discouraged and tired of battling a debilitating illness, or maybe she is mourning her broken relationships with family members. Perhaps it is someone wondering if God is punishing him for something he did in his past, seeking forgiveness, or simply needing to be reminded of God’s presence through this trial. Perhaps it is someone afraid of dying.

Most of the time, I don’t know the reason why a patient has requested a chaplain when I first get to the room. Maybe I’m just doing an introductory visit to let him or her know we have chaplains available. So I rely on my skills of observation when I enter that patient’s room to help me get a sense of the type of person he is, or in what mood he might currently be. Is the TV on? Are the lights on? Are the shades on the window open or closed? Are there any flowers in the room, or any cards and homemade pictures in sight? Is the patient sitting up or turned toward the wall? Is he hiding under the covers? Is there anyone else in the room -- family members, friends, staff members? Is her hair brushed?

I can make all these observations, and I can even thoroughly read the patient’s medical record; yet, there is nothing that will give me a better idea of who this patient IS and what her needs are without hearing it directly from her as we Talk Story.

We chaplains have a term for recognizing the importance of a patient within our line of work. We call the patient a Living, Human Document -- it’s a term developed by the founder of Clinical Pastoral Education, Anton Boisen [Asquith, Glenn H., Jr., Anton T. Boisen and the Study of "Living Human Documents." Journal of Presbyterian History (1962-1985), Vol. 60, No. 3 (FALL 1982), pp. 244-265. Courtesy of JSTOR]. We can study many different aspects of that living, human document, and make all sorts of discoveries and conclusions about what that person is experiencing. But there is no substitute for developing a RELATIONSHIP with that living, human document by being willing to listen and be present with that person, right where they are, in their struggle, their questioning, and their pain.


It is noonday, in the hot sun, when no one else is coming to get water. Most women would come to draw water from the well during the cooler time of the day, like in the early morning hours, or late afternoon. Men hung out away from the well in the marketplace, consumed with their daily business. But this woman, perhaps because she avoided others due to her reputation in the community, came to the well at a time when she could usually count on being alone.

It must have been a great surprise for her to find a JEWISH man sitting at the well. The Jews hated the Samaritans so much, that they completely avoided going through Samaria, even if it meant going all the way around its borders in order to get to the other side of the country. Beyond that, a Jewish person would never have touched anything handled by a Samaritan, and here was Jesus, asking the woman to draw him some water from the well.

Theologian Kathryn Matthews points out to us that this is the longest conversation recorded in the Gospels of Jesus interacting with anyone [Matthews, Kathryn, “Additional Reflection on John 4:5-42.” Sermon Seeds, United Church of Christ, 2017. 9_2017].And is it with a religious leader? Or, a disciple? No -- it is with a rejected, despised, Samaritan woman!

We are told in verse 27 that even Jesus’ own disciples were astonished that he was speaking with a woman! Yet, what does Jesus do here? He does the UNEXPECTED, and he treats the Samaritan woman with...RESPECT. He relates to this woman not as a Samaritan, not as someone who has been married 5 times, not as a lowly woman -- but as a Person of Human Worth.

This Talk Story had such an impact on the entire city, that the Samaritans convinced Jesus to stay there for an additional two days! We’re not given all the details of what happened in those two days, but the last verses of the passage give us a sense of the excitement in that city:

And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we now that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

1979 WAS A PIVOTAL YEAR FOR ME. Not only was it the year I first returned to Hawaii from seminary and began Talk Story with Glenn Harada, it was the year my sister came out to my family as being Lesbian. It was also the year I began working part-time as a Crisis Counselor for the Sex Abuse Treatment Center in Honolulu. I would take evening calls for their hotline, and meet rape victims at Kapi`olani Medical Center to support them through the physical examination and provide reports regarding their assault.

One night, in response to a call, I arrived at Kapi`olani and was told the police were bringing in a rape victim who was transgendered -- in this case, a person who had been born male but had undergone an operation to become a female. I had not personally known a transgendered individual before -- at least, not that I was aware. But I knew this was a person who had been assaulted, and I prayed I could provide the support she would need with compassion, and without judgment

It was a lengthy wait before the police arrived with the victim. I was horrified as I could hear their loud comments as they brought her into the emergency room.“You weren’t raped,” the police sneered at her. “Why you gotta waste our time with this?”

I got out of my chair and hurried to the victim to introduce myself. Her eyes were sad and full of hurt -- not physical pain, but the kind of hurt that comes with shame, feeling defeated, and being bullied. We moved into the examination room, away from the police officers.

It was my responsibility to listen to the victim’s story, to document it, to explain to her the procedures for reporting the assault, and to prepare her emotionally for the physical exam she had to undergo. I stayed with her in the room while she was being examined. It was confirmed by the physician that she had, indeed, been raped.

I was with her for several hours that night, and during that time, she very shyly began opening up to me, sharing about her family. Her mother was a teacher at a Christian preschool. It had been very hard for her family to accept her as being transgendered, but she always felt the love of her mother. I drove her home that night -- she didn’t want her mother or anyone else to know what had happened to her. She was a very gentle, sweet soul, and I never saw her again. But I hope that somehow, that night, I helped her remember that SHE IS HUMAN.


It was entitled, “Sacred Conversations: LGBTQ Folk and the Bible.” Just to confirm for all of us, the LGBTQ stood for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (or as the featured speaker added, even Queer) folk.

For many people, this would be considered a very controversial subject to be held in a church sanctuary -- and it certainly was. In attendance were people who came from all perspectives, viewpoints, and interpretations on what the Bible has to say about Homosexuality. We were a mix of liberals and conservatives, fundamentalist Christians and moderate Christians, straight people and gay people, people from different cultures and races.

But this was an unusual evening. We started out by agreeing together that, no matter how much we disagreed on the subject matter, we would agree to treat each other with RESPECT. We would be honest, and listen to each other’s perspectives.

We were instructed to break up into discussion groups, and I ended up in a group of four -- I was the only woman, and the three men came from more conservative backgrounds.Yet, as we spent time Talking Story about our experiences, our questions, and our struggles with Biblical interpretation, we were able to hold a deep respect for each other.

I felt a keen sense of Kindness and Generosity between the four of us despite our differences of opinion. I will always hold that special experience in my heart.


*In this climate of political divide, will we succumb to viewing each other as Democrat vs. Republican?
I pray that we resolve to firmly say NO.

*Will we succumb to viewing ourselves as Liberals vs. Conservatives?
I pray that we resolve to firmly say NO.

*Will we succumb to viewing ourselves as Documented Citizens vs. Undocumented?
I pray that we resolve to firmly say NO.

*Will we succumb to viewing ourselves as Christians vs. Muslims?
I pray that we resolve to firmly say NO.

*Will succumb to viewing ourselves as Straight vs. Gay?
I pray that we resolve to firmly say NO.

WE MUST BE WILLING TO OPEN OUR HEARTS TO OTHERS THE WAY JESUS DID -- to VIEW them, to LOVE them, and to TREAT them as Jesus did -- as Persons of Human Worth. We have to start sharing our stories with each other -- to TALK STORY. And not only do we need to TELL our stories, we have to LISTEN to each other.

Let us commit ourselves to making a difference in this world, and TALK STORY. May God bless each of you -- Amen.

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