Sunday, October 26, 2008

What Story, Indeed?

But of course, one is blessed and challenged by a particular story. One’s own particular story. As that story intersects and interpenetrates and morphs into and out of all the other stories that are proximate to one’s own. A story that is informed by many distant ones that books and plays and art and movies and videos and lives and conversations and relationships bring home.

A story that at every moment of one’s life, one is writing, revising, rewriting, remembering, interpreting, mulling, considering, reconsidering, piecing together, imagining both retroactively and proactively, sorting out, making sense of, repudiating, embracing, rebelling against, reconciling oneself to, asking forgiveness for, asking guidance concerning, and pretending is something it isn’t. One is the most active participant in the making and remaking and discovering and rediscovering and obfuscating and denying of what one’s story actually is.

I’m reminded of Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner’s terrible wonderful novel of the South. A novel that is about story-making in the context of certain destructive and dominant ideas in the 18th and 19th and 20th century American South. And it is about story-discovering on the part of multiple narrators who are all participants in the larger story of a self-destructive family that does have certain resemblances to King David’s family. Hence, the novel’s title. I’m reminded of this particular novel because it is a favorite of a fellow who I had lunch with today.

It is a commonplace in many churches today to talk about story. About stories in the Bible. About one’s particular story. And it is usual to talk about one’s particular Christian story as one’s “testimony.” I find this way of thinking and talking odd on several counts.

First, I find it odd that one’s story and one’s testimony are conflated. Are made out to be one thing, when in fact they are not. One’s story is an ongoing thing. It is much larger than the several selected and related events that one recounts publicly to connect one to the Christian story of love, forgiveness, and resurrection.

Second, I find that testimony is a story of a particular kind—a story that gathers its meanings around the courtroom metaphor. In other words, the metaphorical context is judgment, not marriage or resurrection or celebrating or the rescuing of the lost. And this is not consistent with the metaphors Jesus likes to use with the sinners and common people to whom he ministers by acting out and telling his stories.

Third, we do know that story-making is complex. Much more complex than the testimonies that we use to entertain ourselves and one another. We live inside many stories, and the authors of these larger stories are multitudes. We are characters in hundreds, thousands, perhaps many billions of stories simultaneously. We are the intersections of history, the eternal now, and the future, each of us. Each of us relates one another to one another through time and timelessness.

Fourth, we are spirit vessels and our lives are the expression of spirit, the out-working of spiritual matters. And our stories, to the extent they represent our spirit-selves truly, employ an infinite palate of metaphor. Of trope and figure. Because everywhere they go they are informed by the Manifold, the Infinite, the Mystery of God.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What Story, Then?

One wonders what story, then? One wonders that if we shouldn’t live inside the story of judgment, the story of condemnation, the story of punishment, what should we do? What can we do? I mean, isn’t this the story in which the rest of humanity is living? Isn’t this the story that the rest of humanity puts on each morning with their clothes? Is not the jurisprudence system required for orderly living? Isn’t civilization dependent on the judgment paradigm being one of the dominant modes or themes of its citizens’ lives?

If civilization depends on the jurisprudence story—and the institutions and power assertion and social contract that allows these—for the enforcement of its orderliness, its safety, its predictability, its promise of happiness, then what does this imply about civilization’s interest in the Kingdom of God? Aren’t the Kingdom of Judgment and the Kingdom of God at odds with one another? Isn’t the conflict between these in our own minds and in our behavior at the heart of the Christian Drama? At the heart of the choice we are daily asked to make as Christians?

Doesn’t Jesus ask us to choose our story? Do you want to live in the world and affirm the world of worldly ideas, beliefs, expectations, and moral choices? Or do you want to live in the world of heaven and affirm the world of heavenly ideas, beliefs, expectations, and moral choices? Do you want God’s order or the world’s order? Do you want God’s justice or the world’s justice?

Do you want to be the bringer of the good news or the bad news? Do you want to be an agent of change or the status quo? Do you want to reveal heaven or more of the same sorry, sad world? Do you want to look for and save the lost, or do you want to leave the lost to their own devices?

Sin through Jesus’s eyes is what we all do most of the time because of the story we choose to live inside. We choose condemnation and punishment for the transgressions of others, not suspension of consequences and forgiveness.

Oh, we say to ourselves and one another, civilization would break down. We need to protect ourselves from the scoundrels. From the thieves and the rapists and the murderers. From the liars and the cheats. From the charlatans and the confidence men.

And so are we protected? Does our story of jurisprudence protect us? Does it, for example, keep people from doing evil? I don’t know. It seems like there is a lot of evil in the world, even though there is a lot of jurisprudence.

Have you been following the presidential debates? And the ads? The campaign speeches and sound bytes? I have, a little. And what I see and hear are people who believe that lying and fraudulent misrepresentation are okay. These are people who want our confidence. Who want our votes. And this is openly done. It is repeatedly done.

When the fact-checkers come on after one of these speeches or these debates—the next day, usually—we discover that both of them have told dozens of lies. Are fraudulently distorting many, many facts. Their ads do the same.

What should we do? Will jurisprudence help us here? Should we put both candidates and all their handlers in jail for lying to us? Lying to us over and over. And pretending they are telling the truth? Smiling at us like a couple of power-mad idiots through it all?

These people are competing to be the most powerful person on the planet. And here they are. In front of us. The most common dissemblers. The vilest liars and cheats. Trying to picture themselves as devoted family men. As devoted public servants. As patriotic. As honest. As straight-talkers. As men we can depend on to lead us wisely, virtuously. As men we can rely on to do the right thing.

Why are they lying so unashamedly? So transparently? So repeatedly? Is it because they can? Is it because there is no judicial restraint? No legal consequence?

That is of course how the world works. If it isn’t illegal, it’s okay. It’s fair game. By definition, if it isn’t illegal, we may do it. And it must be good enough.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Trope, Trope, Trope

I can’t keep them straight. Tropes, figures, dreams, metaphors, stories, films, parables, proverbs, morals, aphorisms, similes, visions, simulacrums, analogs, avatars, paradigms, frameworks, plays, playacting, actors, agents, dramas, songs, singing, narratives, narratology, music, opera, musical scores, novels, poems, dance, painting, sculpture, symphonies, and so forth.

We are always making. We are always creating something to stand for the thing. For the idea. For the feeling. For the gesture. For the movement. For the change. For the sensibility. For the experience. For the opening onto understanding.

To stand apart from the living so that we can get some. Oh, I don’t know. Get some hope. Some faith. Some sense. Of what it is. What it may possibly be. Or mean. And how we may fit in. How we may fit it. How we may become someone who has a place in this possibility that is not us. But that is us.

And what I sometimes think is that words were given to us as the separateness. The God-made instrument for our setting up of these structures. These twice-made transformations. That we might get some distance from the rest of what the world is and we are. So that we might possibly know a bit about the original Making. The original Being. The original Knowing. And the consequent Living.

And the eventual Judgment. I’ve been writing about judgment. I’ve been writing about jurisprudence as a metaphor for Judgment. Something that does not belong to us. Something that is not ours to do. Something that is a metaphor or a trope or a figure for what. Well. May happen to us.

But it is not something for Jesus to do either. Even he is not charged with this. Not yet. Someday. But not yet.

God himself has not given himself this gesture. This possibility. This ability. This charge. This right. This responsibility. This authority. Not yet. So why would we? Why would we look for this? Why would we ever accept this? Why would we ever believe this is something we would be permitted? Allowed? Granted? Asked? Commanded? Why would we ever believe we have any business with this? Why would we ever believe we would not be struck down if we were to do this?

I’m thinking of the woman caught in adultery. Who is brought to Jesus. To God. To the son of Man. Who suspends judgment. Who suspends punishment. Who brings grace to the woman and to those who would stone her. Thank God. Who refuses to Judge. Who refuses to allow others to Judge.

No matter Paul. Set Paul aside for the moment. Listen to Jesus. Judgment is not his. It is not now. And it is never ours. Listen. Do not judge, lest you be judged at the appointed time. Do not seek this. Do not ever look for the opportunity. Because this. Of all things. Is certainly perdition. Is certainly torment and destruction. Is certainly hell both here and hereafter. Listen to Jesus. This is not tangential. This is not optional. This is central. He is quite clear on this point. Let us all. Everyone of us. Move on from here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

More Jury Duty

And then there’s my hero, Pat. My wife. Who has jury duty on the same day I do. Tells the judge during questioning that. Well. Having no people of color called for jury duty is just plain unfair and wrong. It’s just not right. She tells the judge that the jury duty process should include making sure that there are people of color called when a defendant is a person of color.

“People are going to be biased,” she says. “They may not want to think of themselves that way, but they are.”

The prosecutor wants to know more. He wants to know what she means. So she tells him. She tells him that many white people are biased. They can’t help it. And because of this, she’d be biased in the other direction. She’d be an advocate for the defendant in the jury room. She will stick up for him on principle. Because there is no one of color to stick up for him. To argue for his side in the jury room.

“Do you mean you won’t look at the evidence impartially?” the prosecutor wants to know.

“Of course, not,” she says. “I just told you that because of what you have done here. Because you have an all-white jury. I’ll be forced to look at the evidence differently. I’ll be forced to be his advocate in the jury room.”

And so the prosecutor moves to eliminate her for cause. And so the judge agrees and sends her packing. Sends her into outer darkness for being partial to the defendant.

So I’m left along with the others. The other defectives trying to demonstrate that we can be impartial. That we can detect the truth and nothing but the truth. That we can be fair. That we will weigh all the evidence equally. With equanimity and prudence. With high-mindedness and pristine attitudes that have been unaffected by history or by conviction. So to say.

But I think what has happened is that I’ve become contaminated. Contaminated with my wife. With my wife’s partiality cooties. I think in the mind of the prosecutor I’m already in the defendant’s corner.

But also, come to think of it, I’m contaminated in his mind because I’ve asked him questions about some inane line of questioning he was on. Because I didn’t know what he meant by “hesitancy.” Because I simply didn’t go along with the inanity.

“Hesitancy,” he kept saying, “doesn’t mean that you can’t be persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Just because the evidence that is presented makes you hesitate, you shouldn’t believe that this should keep you from finding a verdict of guilty.”

And so as I question him about what “hesitancy” means, he seems to become even more inarticulate. A number of people look up, with a look on their faces that seems to say, “I don’t understand that either.” A woman at the break thanks me for speaking up, because she doesn’t understand what his “hesitancy” is all about. And why the others were pretending to understand. Why the others were answering his questions about this as though they understood.

“Do you mean the evidence may not be valid or persuasive?” I asked the prosecutor. “If this is what you mean, this would be normal. This is why they have juries, to weigh and test the evidence. Evidence that may be flawed. This is why the jury process is called the deliberative process.”

Bottom line, I’m not chosen either. I’m not cast into outer darkness, but in the end, the outcome’s just the same. I’m not admitted to the heaven of jurisprudence. To the privilege of judging my fellow man.