If We Stop to Think About it for Two Minutes...
After two weeks in Charlotte, North Carolina, at a second-year residency for my Doctorate in Ministry, it is good to be back! And no, I don't miss the humidity!
I am grateful for how Josh and Paul kicked off our summer series, The Stories Jesus Told. If you missed either of their messages, click on to gspc.org/recent-messages.
As we continue in the series I have been blessed and challenged by Eugene Peterson's exploration of the parables in his book Tell it Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers. I hope he won't mind me quoting at length:
If we stop to think about it for two minutes, it becomes obvious that there is far more inside a person and there is outside. The visible surface of a body, the skin, is minuscule compared to what is inside but never seen: heart, intestines, veins and arteries, liver, lungs, brain, nerves, blood and bones, gallbladder and kidneys, germs and parasites. A 200-pound man skinned would weigh at least 199 pounds, the skin placed on the scales weighing out to a good deal less than a single pound.
And that of course is just the physical. There's far more that cannot be weighed: thoughts and knowledge, feelings and moods, dreams and visions, words and numbers, prayers and songs, faith and love and hope, habits and memories. Most, in fact, of who and what we are cannot be discovered by cutting us open and examining our guts.
It takes a storyteller to give us access to all that is going on – the swirling maelstrom of sound and silence, visible and invisible in even the dowdiest of women, the dullest of men.
The same goes for the non-personal world, most of which is hidden from us. Scientists make it their business to find out what his beneath and above: far flung galaxies in the solar system, the soil and rock and magma under the surface of the earth, the creatures and plants in the oceans, as deep calls to deep. Instead of using the storytellers imagination of interiority, they use highly sophisticated devices, microscopes and telescopes, radar and sonar, to put together the intricate story of what is going on around, under, and over us – and has been going on for billions of years.
Storytellers activate our imaginations to see and hear beneath the surface of life and involve us in the many dimensions of what is going on behind our back's or just around the corner. It takes a storyteller to reveal the beauty that dazzles like "shining from shook foil" (Gerard Manley Hopkins).
Every time Jesus tells a story, the world of those who listen enlarges, understanding deepens, imaginations are energized. Without stories we end up with stereotypes – a flat earth with flat cardboard figures who have no texture or depth, no interior.
Storytellers invite participation. Storytellers make us aware of the way things are, not just aware as spectators but aware so that we can get in on this world wonders, get our feet walking on its ground, picking a McIntosh apple from the tree and relishing its tartness, diving into a mountain lake in coming up invigorated by the baptism, holding the hand of a child and feeling trust pulse through those fingers.
Jesus does not tell stories in order to illustrate large "truths" about God and salvation, the devil and damnation. There are, of course, truths to know and understand: the truth about God, the truth about right and wrong, the truth about the past. But Jesus doesn't seem to care much about telling us an abstract truth. He intends to get us involved, our feet in the mud and our hands in the bread dough, with the living God who is at work in this world. This is why Jesus tells stories, not to inform or explain or define but to get us actively in on the ways and will of God in the homes and neighborhoods and workplaces where we spend our time.
Nothing is more rudely dismissive of Jesus than to treat him as a Sunday school teacher who shows up on Sundays to teach us about God and how to stay out of trouble. If that is the role we assign to Jesus, we will badly misunderstand who he is and what he's about. He is calling us to follow and join him in the work of salvation's eternal life being carried out right now on the road through Samaria to Jerusalem.