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A quick note on my last post:
As the foundational story for humanity, the Bible informs all other stories. I previously use the word “embraces” because it lends itself to the idea that the Biblical story is bigger, overarching all other stories. Informs works at a different level: more logical, yet less true in a certain sense.
We see how the Bible informs stories in our culture today (and throughout time) by examining the Biblical tropes that continually repeat themselves in stories throughout time: the Christ figure, the idea of redemption, the restless wanderer (which at one point, a whole nation gets into this one), the conversion experience (happens once or twice), the spurned lover, the misunderstood hero, the existentialist searcher, the …well, you get the point.
Sure, some stories were written before the Bible, or without knowledge of the Bible. But they’ve stuck around because they tap into the way that God designed our lives (and therefore story) to work. In that sense, looking at the Bible as this design, this foundational story: the Bible still informs (or embraces) these other stories.
Capturing the essence of a story is difficult and ambiguous. But perhaps it is better to put that the Bible embraces these essences. The deeper truths behind a good story. Yet, even more than the truths which can be pulled out and easily spoken, the Bible embraces the plot, the beauty of a good story, the turn of phrase, the paradoxical nature, the mystery behind everyday objects.
As a story involves more of these ideas, labeled so banally as a tight plot, or developed characters, or beautiful language, then the story’s essence matches closely the Biblical story. The Bible embraces it, so to speak, more tightly.
And we call it a better story.
We call it this because it matches the foundational story which defines humanity. Some humans may reject the story, just as some humans reject their family. They may go so far as to avoid the family reunion, or even change their name. But the same family blood runs through their veins; the same story is true and foundational for all. Which is why writers have an impulse towards it, without even knowing.
This does not mean that all writers are Christian writers (I may get into that later…we’ll see). But it does mean that those who can best understand stories are Christians. We have the full picture, the full story.
Yesterday I looked at story, and the concurrent breakdown of story and morality. Today I’d like to wander around a bit, asking continuing to examine story and it’s place in our lives.
I start with J.R.R. Tolkien, who famously wrote Lord of the Rings, and much more anonymously, worked on the Oxford English Dictionary for some time.
Tolkien loved both story and words. We see this is LOTR: he invents whole languages. He also employs language differently depending on the situation. The hobbits, for example, use a sort of late 19th century English (with added words, and made-up words that would fit such a time period). Yet, during an important and “high” meeting such as the Council of Elrond, speakers use an older syntax and words with older roots. Such detail gives the casual reader a sense that the council is quite a hallowed meeting.
But that’s neither here nor there, just an interesting note about LOTR. What’s more pertinent is that Tolkien, with his understanding both of language and story, pens a new word: eucatastrophe. We’re familiar with the word “catastrophe,” which traditionally means the denouement of a drama. Since the denouement of a drama, especially a classical tragedy, is not usually good, catastrophe has in our language taken a rather negative tone. Tolkien adds the prefix “eu” (meaning good) to this word, thereby inventing a word that means a sudden turn of positive events at the end of a story.
Eucatastrophe is a sudden happy turn, but one that fits within the story. You may say, in hindsight, you could see this happy turn all along.
Though Tolkien talks mainly about fairy tales and eucatastrophe, he also says that the gospel is a eucatastrophe:
The gospels contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. And among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. The birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of man’s history. The resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the inner consistency of reality…God is the Lord of angels and of men, of men and of elves; legend and history have met and fused.
Tolkien argues that the Bible tells a story: the story of God’s relationship with humanity. And the essence of every fairy story fits within the larger story of the Bible. Northrop Frye, a literary critic who wrote The Great Code goes a step further: he asserts that the Biblical story is the basis for all western literature. It’s quite a claim.
Yet, if we think about it, those who have stepped into the reality of the story the Bible tells, we see that this is the story of humanity. We see that the Bible begins a story that everyone participates in, whether she knows it or not. Thus, the larger story of the Bible embraces all true stories: autobiography and history and the like. Yet, as Tolkien as Frye assert, doesn’t it also embrace the world of fiction?
Doesn’t it embrace the essence of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? We see a similar eucatastrophe, a fully realized world with the forces of good and evil? Or the essence Shakespeare, and the psychology and cunning and evil and joy?
Perhaps you may say: I’ve read some bad stories. Some poorly constructed stories. Some stories that aim primarily at devaluing the Bible. Some stories that aim only to corrupt my thoughts.
Then let me put it differently. The Bible tells the one all-embracing and true story of human history. It tells from whence we came. It tells where we are now. It tells what hope we have, and what the ultimate future holds for us. It is the foundational story of humanity. And, if the Bible is the foundational story, we cannot get away from it. We cannot tell a story that in no way relates to the Bible. If we are defined by this story, then it defines all we do.
We’re not coming up with new stuff, unrelated to the Bible. (I can go on about what I mean by “embrace” or “essence” but I’ll stop here.)
Thus, I believe that we can judge a story by how it relates to the Bible. Lord of the Rings? So many people judge it highly because it relates so closely to the Biblical story. It has good vs. evil, hope vs. doubt, a small people against a larger empire, etc. The same goes with Shakespeare. The same goes with Faulkner or Hemingway or Dan Brown. How it mirrors and matches the True Story lets us know a story’s merit, its worth, its value. That’s partially why we like page-turners (a tight plot, closely related to the tight plot of the Bible) but, ultimately, they don’t hold up over time. They don’t have the psychology: characters are either all good or all evil. We know from the Bible, and from observing ourselves, that people are more complicated that that. So, the story has moderate value.
Or it tells why the Christ-figure turns up again and again and again in literature: there is a truth about such a figure.
Now here’s the catch, where I will leave us today: if this is true of literature and stories, is it not true of our own, individual stories?
Thoughts after reading Mark 10.17-31:
I’ve heard this sermon many, many times. We’ve got a rich young man. We’ve got Jesus. And Jesus tells the rich young man to sell everything and give to the poor. At this point, the sermon usually goes: now we don’t all have to give away all we own, but what do you need to give up?
“As he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him…”
Jesus is up in Judea and getting ready to head back down to Jerusalem. This rich young man runs up as Jesus is leaving. Now, either this rich young man either just got wind Jesus was in town, or he finally mustered the courage to confront Jesus. My guess would be the second. He’s been sitting in his opulent house, hearing the crowds that follow Jesus, maybe watching from a distance. He is intrigued. He feels somewhere an emptiness — even with his power and riches life is still too much for him to control. Maybe a servant tells him that Jesus and his disciples are on the edge of town, getting ready to leave. Spontaneously, maybe even not totally knowing what he’s doing, he runs to Jesus. And, instead of asking about this emptiness, about this isolation and brokenness, he covers his question in the guise of eternal life.
A scholarly question. A question that still makes him look good.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus gives him the scholarly answer. Keep the commandments. C’mon, you’ve heard this since grade school. But, Jesus only refers to the commandments that deal with other people. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Honor your father and mother. He skips the commandments that say things like “You shall have no other gods before me.”
The man presses Jesus. And, my guess is, that if we were privy to the emotions behind the conversation, this man immediately realizes he needs more of an answer. I’ve tried that. It’s not enough. I’m actually not just interested in this academically. I’m desperately interested for my life right now. Jesus, Mark writes, looked at the man and loved him.
“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
If we remember the passage before this one, the passage about the children and how the Kingdom of God belongs to such people, we realize that in some way this passage, too, is talking about the Kingdom.
Too often, I am at the center of my kingdom. And what matters is the easy stuff: don’t murder, don’t steal, sure. Keep a healthy bank account. Ask scholarly questions without looking too weak. Hold your head high. Keep it together, and when you can’t, don’t let anybody know.
But we see God’s Kingdom is different. It’s not about bank accounts or looking good. It’s about following. It’s about coming like a child. Why else would Jesus go on to tell his disciples, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!”
Children. His disciples didn’t get it all yet, but they were following. They were trying. They were listening. They had left their bank accounts and status. They had left their little kingdoms for the True Kingdom.
And so may we. May we not build little kingdoms around ourselves — kingdoms where we have it all together and hold the gilded scepter. May we give up the lead role in our cage and take a walk-on part in the war (okay, that’s a song lyric, but it works).
I don’t know what I need to give up. I’m not going to sell the house or run off to Africa. But, slowly and surely, I want to be a part of the True Kingdom. I want my values to change, so I let go of the need and worry and anxiety of keeping up appearances and can trust rampantly and riotously.
And maybe, I can live up to that ancient commandment that Jesus does not mention in so many words: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Continuing on my journaling/posting kick, here’s my thoughts after reading Mark 10.13-16.
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.”
Monday morning and Ellis was up early. I had no time to eat breakfast. I prayed that I would. I didn’t.
I think of what this verse means: for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Jesus obviously saw something in children that we all see. He saw a certain awe, maybe, or wonder, or openness.
While I haven’t been around a ton of kids lately, I have been heavily researching babies. I love when Ellis opens her eyes wide at a red wall or at a bright green spring tree. I wonder: what would it be to see a tree for the first time? A dark red wall? A human face? I begin to understand why she stares so. I begin to think about the world in new ways: the majesty in a tree, the beauty in a wall. I stop and look anew.
Or, I think about Ellis’ concerns — eating, getting changed, being held. Such simplicity. I love the way I can pick her up and calm her. I love how she doesn’t worry about me dropping her. If I were held by someone 20 times my size, and he was trying to get a drink and change the channel and hold me all at the same time, I might have some doubts. Not Ellis. She knows I won’t drop her. Such trust.
She has no self-consciousness. She can burp and fart with the best of them. Later, I’m sure she’ll say certain statements that will cause us to throw our heads back and laugh. She is persistent. She’ll cry until she gets what she wants.
She is absolutely beautiful.
I think of myself today: unable to eat breakfast the way I wanted. Tired, thinking about a second cup of coffee. Where is the Kingdom in my life today? Or, better: how is my life a part of the Kingdom?
Do I trust God will hold me? Will he provide? Do I worry about myself and how others perceive me? Am I willing to be persistent? Do I trust God knows what’s best for me?
I have a moment, now, to get breakfast. Ellis is asleep. She is able to trust and not worry, to be persistent, to know that we know what’s best for her.
May the orientation of my life — the trust and wonder and persistence and the host of other attributes that I’m working on fill my small role in the Kingdom today.
Well, I know my blog track record hasn’t been stellar lately, but my journaling record has been lately. Of course, no one reads my journal (or can read it, as I’m sure Brooke would remind me), so I’m seeking to combine the two.
Very slowly, I’ve been working through the Gospel of Mark. I take just a few verses a day and chew on them. And, I’ll journal on a thought or idea that sticks out at me, inspires me, convicts me. Today, I read Mark 10.1-12. Jesus talks to the Pharisees about marriage, and about how the Pharisees have been playing fast-and-loose with divorce.
“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” Mark 10.6-8
Allow me to sidestep the whole divorce rate in our country today (somewhere, sometime Jesus also said something about judging others) and jump straight to my own thoughts and life.
You see, I’m rather fond of my flesh. My body. I often take myself on runs in order to take care of my body; I like to spend time outside because it just feels good; I make sure to eat 3+ meals a day because I get hungry a lot. I shower (almost) daily. I take naps. I try to get eight hours every night (though certain babies are making that a bit more difficult). Really, I do a lot to take care of my flesh. My body.
And my body takes care of me. You see, if I’m out running and it’s hot, my body does this cool thing of wetting me down and cooling me off. If I’m too tired my body will yawn. If I get cut my body lets me know. My body is my way of communicating with the world — through my face and hands, primarily — and lets the world communicate with me.
So I think of this: the two shall become one flesh. I think of how I care for my body, and I wonder if I care for Brooke the same. Do I think of her or obsess over her the way I do a late meal when I’m hungry and tired? Do I seek to just make her feel good the way I do by taking a walk outside? Do I constantly seek her best the way I do by running and trying to eat healthy?
Do I rely on her the way I rely on my flesh: to keep me safe and healthy, to help me interact with the world, to be a source of joy? Do I hope for her the way I hope for myself, and fight for her the way I fight for myself? Or, is there a distinction: are her hopes and joys subtly different than mine?
The answer to these questions, naturally, is sometimes yes and sometimes no. Yet, for me today, I hope to see Brooke with slightly different eyes, seeing her more and more as my flesh, someone mystically joined with my by God Himself. May those of us who are married see our spouses the same.
So, for the past two weeks I’ve been on my own all day with El. And, I’ve been searching for ways to fill the long stretches of time when I have to walk and hold her. Fortunately, God made Baby Bjorns and I can use both hands while lulling her back to sleep. And, I’m going to attempt to update the ole’ blog in the process over the next few weeks.
Here’s the first blog post in awhile: Random Thoughts whilst caring for Ellis.
Why are cop shows/movies always about catching murderers or sexual deviants (never thieves)? Actually, thieves are celebrated in movies and shows for their cunning, and the fact that no one really ever gets hurt by stealing millions of dollars (or dollars worth of paintings — if you steal something other than money on a show, it has to be a painting).
I have never celebrated so many burps in my life, as I have with Ellis.
Why doesn’t anyone celebrate my burps?
If we leave the house messy enough, does that count as a security system? Seriously, I don’t want to walk through the house in the middle of the night — I can’t imagine a cat burglar trying to make it through.
I think a person’s ability to play well with others generally peaks somewhere in early elementary school.
I believe the definition of having “made it” in America today means getting your own Wikipedia page.
I’d really like to have an announcer following my every move all day. “Oh, he’s going to the fridge. Let’s see what he does. He feints for the yogurt but pulls out the ham! Yessir!”
Can anyone else other than Verne Lundquist get away with saying “Yessir!” as an acceptable exclamation? At least, you have to be over 60 to even think about pulling it off.
I find myself rocking back and forth sometimes even when I’m not holding Ellis, out of habit.
Other than Baby Bjorns, I don’t know how parents of yesteryear survived without podcasts.
Nice to see The Office close out its season well. It really does best with plausible relationship dysfunction. Which is why the Michael Scott Paper Company storyline didn’t sit well: it wasn’t plausible.
Do you think at the fall of the Egyptian dynasty, anybody thought to him or herself, “Sure, our empire’s crumbling, but we had a really nice run. Plus, those pyramids aren’t going anywhere for awhile.”
In 1000 years, I hope America has more to show for herself than the show “Two and a Half Men.” In fact, I hope no historian ever finds that show. Come to think of it, I hope most sitcoms disappear from the records when historians take stock of our culture.
I wonder what it’s like not to have consciousness. What goes through your mind? Do you know what’s going through your mind?
Okay. I’ll stop here. It’s good to be back. We’ll see what my brain comes up with in the next few days.