Mystory

When we resist the urge to pick sides and demonize our opponents,  When we dwell in the mysteries by finding the truth in both sides of an argument, we receive great training for something really important.  God tells us about the world by telling us stories.  And try as we might, we can’t read stories the same we’d read a debate, or a text book.

When I use that word “stories” I’m not implying that they are contain no truth.  Nor am I suggesting that they didn’t actually happen.  What I mean is that If you take out a few lineages, a few lists of laws like Leviticus, and a few letters in the back, this book is nothing but the telling of events that happened to specific characters in specific places.

There’s a truth about story that can best be grasped by looking at a story.  It’s not a story that’s in the bible.  But it’s a masterpiece of film, a story for the ages, a tale that brings tears and laughter.  It is Back to School.

As some of us remember, Back to School is this Rodney Dangerfield movie.  As one might guess based on the title, he’s an older guy who decides to go back to college.  In the scene that I’m focused on today, Rodney is struggling in his English class reading a Kurt Vonegut story.

So he hires Kurt Vonegut to write the paper… about Kurt Vonegut.  The punchline to this whole series of scenes is that the professor, not knowing that the author wrote the paper, thinks that the paper is all wrong.

That’s the most obvious absurdity: the idea that Vonnegut could get his own writing wrong.  But there’s something else, equally absurd at work.  And that’s the idea that somebody might tell a story and then, after writing it, that the person might  go about explaining what that story means.  This leads to a question: If the story was just a masquerade to convey a few sentences, what’s the point?  Why not just write those few sentences—the thing you really wanted to get across—and be done with it?

The bible is a pretty amazing book.  More to the point, this is a pretty good cool series of stories.  And most importantly, this is an amazing story—not just an anthology, not only a collection of stand-alone independent chapters, but also, a novel, a complete work.

And this leads to a question:

Why?

Why is the bible almost exclusively story?  Why did God choose to communicate this way?  Why did Jesus communicate through story?  Why are the accounts of Jesus the stories told from the perspective of four different men?

And here’s an equally important question:

What if you didn’t know anything about the bible first hand?  When you hear other people talk about scripture, do they pay enough attention, do they offer enough respect to the stories?

In my experience, people talk a lot about what the bible says.  And even more about what it means.  And it might be that some of them are right.

But to judge by the way people quote scripture, you’d think it was a list of rules, laws, and expectations.  You’d think that were no stories at all.  You’d think it was all black and white, predigiested, specific instructions.

One of my favorite writers is this guy named Billy Collins.  He wrote this poem about how to read poetry.  I think it’s relevant though, to the way we read story.  More importantly, it’s relevant to the way we read scripture.

Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

The idea is that a story is like a bunch of grapes.  Our tendency is to want to put them  into a press and squeeze the truths out.  And then discard the rest.  Or better yet, it’s like Collins says: We tie the story down, and we beat the truth out of it.  Those 4 or 5 morals, or principals, or whatever, they the true essence of what the story is.  The husk that is left over, after we squish it, or beat it, that can be discarded.

Have we ever really worked out the profound arrogance in this?  The beginning and the end, the A through the z, the author and the sustainer of the universe, he shared with us truths in the form of a story.  But only we are qualified to extract the important nuggets out of those stories.  It’s like we say “I wish I’d been with God at the beginning.  Then, when he started conveying all these stories to people, I could have interupted God, exerted the important parts, and saved everybody a lot of money in bible printing costs.  The version of the bible I co-wrote with God would have been much more succint than this fluffy thing he handed us.”

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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