In a world that often seems devoid of meaning, science and religion are often the most reliable means of assigning definition and validity to an unpredictable, chaotic universe. While the ideas can peacefully coexist and even overlap in intriguing ways, most people typically subscribe to one of the two institutions in their search for meaning. For some, religion is too subjective and narrative-dependent to hold veracity or relevance; for others, science is a deeply flawed, aggrandized school of thought that cannot explain certain phenomena.
However imperfect, both concepts can be applied in equal measure to medicine, a field that transcends classification and instead integrates content from every conceivable area of study from biology to public policy to design. Medicine is a unique entity due to its universality: everybody at some time in their life will require medical attention and eventually succumb to some fatal injury or illness. That much is nonnegotiable.
How sickness is addressed and the process of dying confronted, though, is entirely dependent on the patient and their family, since these choices are often guided by either religion or science. Both are viable means of coping, but the intersection of the two provides a more comprehensive assessment of what it means to be sick and dying. That intersection is the crux of The Monti’s latest event, “Stories of Medicine and Religion,” which will explore the interactions of medicine and religion through the lens of personal narratives.
“The practice of medicine is one thing, but when you talk to patients, they’re talking about meaning, it’s inherently spiritual,” said Jeff Polish, founder and executive director of The Monti, which is non-profit organization dedicated to providing a voice to the Durham community. “We’ve done shows on God, shows on medical issues, but never something like this.”
The show will include five storytellers from distinct backgrounds who will share intimate tales on the subject of medicine and religion.
Polish shared the lineup: “Each person is talking about the theme from a different perspective. We have a med student, a physician, a pediatric nurse from Seattle, someone from a religious studies program, a woman who works with the mentally disabled.”
By drawing upon the experiences of such a wide variety of people, the show will cover the topic from several different angles and integrate both science and religion without favoring one over the other.
North Carolina native Kristyn Yelton is one of those people, a member of an Assertive Community Treatment team that provides mental health care to adults with severe mental illnesses. Although this is her first time participating in a Monti event, she is far from a stranger to the program. In an email interview, Yelton detailed her history with the Monti and how she decided to share her own story.
“I have been going to the Monti for nearly ten years and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of hearing raw and honest, sometimes funny, but always genuine stories of people in our community,” Yelton wrote. “I’ve always said it’s the best live entertainment around. I’ve often thought about telling a story at one of the Story Slams but never felt that I had the right story or the nerve to get up and tell on. After the recent ‘Into the Wild’ show in Chapel Hill, the moment hit me and the next show/theme really resonated with me; ‘Medicine & Religion.’ So, I reached out to Jeff P. and pitched my story ... and I am now planning for the show on Nov. 3.”
When asked how she would describe her contribution to the event, Yelton replied: “My contribution to the event includes working collectively with Jeff P. to learn true storytelling techniques that make the Monti such a successful and high quality show. Secondly, incorporating [all] that I've learned to share a story that's so much a part of who I am, while also taking a risk in connecting more deeply with the community around me.”
Using personal narratives to explore difficult themes such as the complex relationship between religion and medicine is more than just a gimmick to sell show tickets — it is a tool that can bridge even the widest gaps in a community. Stories are capable of bringing together even the most different people, of creating a connection that can foster constructive dialogues and change opinions in a way that academic journals and sermons cannot. “Stories of Medicine & Religion” will establish a space in which people can learn from one another no matter what beliefs they hold.
Jeff Polish eloquently encapsulates the power of these events in his final statement. “We have a mission to create a sense of community through the telling of stories … and by the end of the night, people are drawn into each other’s stories and their own. We want everyone to realize—like it or not—that we are all headed to a place where we need medical care. We need to realize that we are all more alike than we are different.”
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The Monti’s “Stories of Medicine and Religion” will be held at The Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham on Nov. 3 from 8 to10 p.m. Tickets are available on the Carolina Theatre’s website.