Thursday, December 18, 2008

No Need to Be Real About Jesus

Christ child

Sun pours through the car window as I wait. Girls are in piano lessons, playing holiday duets. Christmas is coming and I'm bundled, oblivious to the stress of the season for just this snippet of time, here in the car, in the sun before tomorrow's predicted storm.

Oblivious because I'm immersed in, of all things, the gift I bought myself for Christmas. The Jewish Study Bible. Not light reading for the hectic holidays. But I'm intoxicated.

The person who wrote the introduction is talking about the preeminence of story in Genesis and other parts of Torah. Genesis is not, he reminds me, philosophical proof or confession of faith or theological tract but story. (Hey, Scot, this reminds me of Parakeet too!)

Story is messy. It gets told from different points of view, it seems inconsistent at times, it is not rigid but fluid. It has, as the writer notes a high tolerance for different versions of the same event. I chuckle to myself and think about calling this post Torah 'n Me, because I realize I drive my husband crazy by a similar ancient-Near-Eastern approach to reality (it looks like I'm thinking inconsistently, Dear, but I'm just the Torah type!)

I close my eyes and think about a quote I read in A Profound Weakness...

... images of the birth of Jesus tend to focus on symbolic, formulaic aspects of the event because realism isn't essential in promoting story. Realism puts an event in time and place but doesn't necessarily point to the 'subplot', to the invisible. p.52

On the night before Christmas, we too will put realism aside. We'll think on the sweetness of God not with treatises but by biting into challah bread dipped in honey. We'll raise our makeshift tent (sukkah) and participate in the story of God's people seeking respite (the way the Israelites found respite in God in the desert). Each person will have a chance to sit in the shadows of the tent, smell and taste that bread, which a child will hand them, saying...

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the house of the LORD your whole life long. Ps 23

And the one who receives the bread will say, Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. (Ps 31:5)

Each of us will bring our secret and not-so-secret stories to the tent. Knowing me, I'll close my eyes, feel the moment like it is the warmth of the sun shining, regardless of storms. And I'll feel bundled, like a child listening to a story before good night. Before good night and, in this season, before Merry Christmas.

RAP: Ache of Advent by L.L. at High Calling Blogs
Poetry Friday: Oasis at Erica Hale's
Six Christmas Poems at GoodWordEditing

Christ Child watercolor by Salvador Dali. Photo by L.L. Barkat.

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Blogger Joelle said...

Beautiful. Story has much power, entirely more transformative than dogma, doctrine, theology.... Making some challah tomorrow to share. Will think of you as I knead and braid and bake and taste. May you see Jesus anew in the iconography/window/story of your traditions this Christmas!

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm currently reading The Blue Parakeet and am loving it! Of course, this is an area I'm passionate about. I'll have to check out that book.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I love how full of story the Bible is. I love that Jesus himself decided to teach in story.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Marcus Goodyear said...

I can't get past that painting. Where is it? I want to see it some day.

8:16 AM  
Blogger RissaRoo said...

Story...the telling of it reaches each of us in unique and indescribable ways, wraps us together in common threads, binds us with words in a thousand tongues telling of the same whole. I love this thought! And the challah bread...I have been trying to create this gluten-free for my family. I miss the braided loaves, shiny with egg wash and sweet with honey. Perhaps I'll try today!

10:36 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

I much prefer to be a part of a story than a proof text or scientific equation.
Our husbands seem to share a desire for pattern and order. Perhaps to the more scientific mind it equals truth? (Which I know is also in the make-up of our Lord. It's just that, like you, I rest easy in the seemingly inconsistent overlaps of human experience and re-telling... Story!)

Oh yeah, my quilt. The engineer in him (and the daughter it's intended for) cringe at the sight of one bright red panel set catty-corner in a field of cinnamon brown in the back. Its non-matchiness is pointed out to me frequently. They can't believe I put that there. I just have to smile and nod. That red panel represents a STORY, not an equation.
(And maybe someday I will tell it to them.)

11:00 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Story is frequently undervalued, don't you think?

12:01 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I'm so tired but I love the truth here, and the beauty. The story.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Billy Coffey said...

One of my favorite quotes, by Muriel Rukeyser:

"The universe is made up of stories, not atoms."

12:21 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

Your reflections make me think about principles of translation. As I understand it, English translations of the Old Testament simply cannot capture the poetry of the original texts because the language structures are so completely different. This is not to say that scriptures are not still inspired or valuable in translation, it is just to say that the Jewish tradition has layers and layers of beauty and symbolism that are lost in translation because of the limitations of language.

I found myself incredibly annoyed with a program I happened on that was exploring the "historical" Jesus... including explaining how his mother would have come to believe that he was the promised messiah (because, of course, believing in angelic visitation isn't historical enough to warrant consideration). I couldn't put my finger on why it bothered me so much. I think it boils down to my belief that there is a real Jesus, a historical Jesus, and knowing what we can about his life and work is important. But there is also the poetry, the mystery and the reality of relationship with Him, and to reduce him to what fits our paradigms and secular history is to miss HIM.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, your words here remind me of Kevin Vanhoozer's book I'm finally finishing: "The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Theology." Certainly of "The Blue Parakeet" as well.

There is so much in a story and so much that resonates in different ways I wish I would have got to this soin those viewing or even participating in a story. They seem to have a life all their own.

But the tent thing is really a nice tradition and that Jewish Study Bible sounds mighty interesting.

2:28 AM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...

Love your story...but challah dipped with honey isn't real?

10:57 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Joelle... Yes. Though I suppose that the world needs both. I think the important thing to take from The Jewish Study Bible is the sense that story was the focus of those writers, which means we need to approach the texts with that in mind. Ah, you make challah! That's wonderful.

Heather... the book is actually a study bible and that was from the introduction. :)

Ruth... stories are good.

Marcus... Well, you'll have to get over to Paris. To Montmarte. The Espace Dali. (Forgive my French spellings, though I think I probably got "Paris" correct. :)

Erica... I like the way story brings us together, but I like too how we each enter differently. Let me know how the challah turns out!

Erin... okay, I'd like to know the story of the red patch. :)

Craver... yes, why is that?

Sarah... glad you feel free to just rest and enjoy. :)

Billy... funny to think about what stories are literally made of... would it be atoms after all?

Nikki... the whole translation thing is fascinating and I may write more about that later. It's also a messy process! And you are right about losing the poetry. That's one reason I'm learning Hebrew (oh so slowly though!!)

Ted... what a book title! I'm getting a little dizzy just contemplating it. :)

Every Square... yeah, you're right. It's totally real. I just liked that snarky [Scot McKnight word alert!] title for my blog post.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Scott R. Davis said...

You tell the idea of story real well. The way it was back during when the New Testament was being conceived. Started years after Jesus ascended into heaven, but formed within the fabric in the minds of society.

And I gave one of your books to a friend of mine and i believe she will be blessed by it. Your book speaks so well of emotions that all of us feel well. your words are well sifted to fit so well within 4 to 5 pages a chapter. Well done and written.

May need to order more to bless others going through the struggles you share about.

In His grace, scott

7:24 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Why is story undervalued? Well, I'm no expert, but that doesn't preclude the formation of opinion, does it? ;-) A couple of reasons quickly jump to mind.

First, the telling of a story is not seen to be of immediate practical usefulness. I confess that I myself, have little interest in reading fiction, because it seems (to me) like a waste of time. An acquaintance once pointed out a profound idea. Right after I referred to fiction as "fluff," she asked, "How did Jesus teach?" 'Nuff said.

Second, how many people really know how to tell a story? People in other cultures and times practiced story telling instead of TV channel surfing, Facebook, and downloading abbreviated daily news as an interruption to music from a car stereo. Fortunately, I find blogging helpful for taking the time to think about how I want to color a story, versus a perfunctory blurting of monochromatic details that never reach the heart.

12:45 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Scott... thanks for your kind encouragements. I hope you find unexpected blessing in its pages.

Craver... I laughed at your thoughts on expertise! And I have the same relationship with fiction... it feels so useless. When, I wonder, did I forget where true power lies? But then maybe it's more as you say... maybe it's that I find it difficult to locate the really good stories. I know that when I do I live in them for a long, long time.

2:40 PM  

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