Crossan, on the “Good Samaritan” parable

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What happens to your world if a story records that your ‘best’ people act badly and only your ‘worst’ person acts well?

- John Dominic Crossan, The Power of Parable, 56

…”good Samaritan” is–for us by now–a redundant cliché.  It is simply a standard term for somebody who helps another in distress.  It has long ago lost any hint of oxymoron–like, say, a square circle.  We do not hear it as so many first-century Jewish ears would have–as a cultural paradox, a social contradiction in terms.  For centuries before the time of Jesus, there had been tension between Jews and Samaritans, and a “good Samaritan” was more paradox than cliché….

My conclusion is that the Good Samaritan was not intended by Jesus as a simple example story, a straightforward moral lesson, a positive paradigm for compassionate behavior.  The story presumes that compassionate help is the proper response…. It is better understood as a challenge parable, a story that challenges listeners to think long and hard about their social prejudices, their cultural presumptions, and yes, even their most sacred religious traditions. (61-62)

One, two, three, fork!

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Micaela, Emeth, Annie

Emeth - Sun

Micaela: “Did you draw that sun yourself?!”
Emeth: “Yay-yeh!”
Micaela: “Wow, that is so beautiful!”

Emeth

Micaela, Emeth, Annie

Micaela

* * * * *

Annie, in the sun by the lake

Annie, in the sun by the lake

Annie: [Counting before she slides off the boards from the couch]
“One. Two. Three. Fork!
Five. Sticks. Seven. Eight. Ten!”

* * * * *

Vitalia, sleeping on couch

Vitalia, sleeping on couch

Emeth and Talia

Emeth and Talia

Vitalia, playing with grass at park

Vitalia, playing with grass at park

Chesterton – The Everlasting Man

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My introduction to Chesterton was seeing a copy of Orthodoxy on a friends apartment bookshelf in Brooklyn in 2009.  I had no idea who he was, or what the book was about, but I was told I should read it.

Back home, I found a copy on my dad’s bookshelf, so I borrowed it and devoured it.  I had never read anything that was so well articulated, so well thought out.  It was as though he had reached out of the book, grabbed me by the arms and turned me up-side down.  He made it seem like our culture was walking on the sky, rather than on solid ground.

After Orthodoxy, I wanted more.  I attempted to read The Everlasting Man but didn’t get very far.  I think I tried to read it too straight.  I wanted to follow his ideas, his logic, with exactitude, but it left me dizzy.  Chesterton is no drive on the Interstate.  He is a backwoods-mountain-bushwhack trail.  If you let him lead you, you’ll think you are lost, but at the end you’ll look back over the course which led you to where you are, and say, “Ah, the view is beautiful from up here!”

This past week I picked up The Everlasting Man again, and that old feeling came back.  His words grabbed me, turned me up-side down, then put wings on me so we could fly together.

His “Introduction – The Plan For This Book” starts with the seed of a line, “There are two ways of getting home, and one of them is to stay there.  The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.”

He goes on to say, “The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it.”  The idea being,  that when familiarity breeds contempt, one must escape the familiarity till they are not close enough anymore to view it with contempt.  Only at this point can they truly see it for what it is.  This is especially true of Christianity, Chesterton asserts.  When we are overfamiliar with it, we cannot judge it effectively.  While the one within Christianity would be the best judge, the next best judge is someone that does not come ready with his judgments, but someone who is far enough away to see it in all of its color and wonder against the backdrop of heathenism.  (When Chesterton says “heathenism,” he simply means, man without religion.)

Chesterton’s goal, then is to turn you up-side down.  To make you see with new eyes, both man in the backdrop of the natural things, and Christ in the backdrop of humanity.

“And I say that in both cases, when seen thus, they stand out from their background like supernatural things.  They do not fade into the rest with the colours of impressionism; they stand out from the rest with the colours of heraldry; as vivid as a red cross on a white shield or a black lion on a ground of gold.  So stands the Red Clay against the green field of nature, or the White Christ against the red clay of his race.”

I am picking up Chesterton in the middle of reading John Dominic Crossan’s The Power of Parable.  I confess, Crossan has intrigued me for a few years since I picked up his Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography.  I wanted (and still want) to learn more about the historical context of the life and times of Jesus.

Crossan’s writings, though, have called into question many of the things that I have taken on faith.  For example, he says that even though the account of Joseph and Mary returning to Bethlehem for the census makes for a charming Christimas story, it’s in fact very unlikely that they did that, since censuses at the time never required people return to their hometown to be registered.  Rather, people would be registered in the town that they were currently living in, so as not to cause mass travel and disrupt the entire economic system.

This was the first time I had ever heard someone call into question the inerrancy of scripture.  In The Power of Parable, he does the same thing by essentially arguing that not only did Jesus tell parables, but some accounts of Jesus’ life are parabolic as well, and did not actually happen.

I’m still in the beginning of this book, but to be quite honest, these things shake me.  But I think they shake me in a good way.  I don’t want to go through life in a bubble.  I want to be thoughtful about the things I believe.  I want to know why I believe what I do.  Yes, certain things need to be taken on faith, but delving into them in the process, I believe, will only strengthen that faith rather than destroy it.

What I mean is that I used to have a fear of different beliefs and opinions, never really wanting to get into the shoes of the people that hold those different beliefs, for fear that my own beliefs would be compromised, questioned, or weakened.  This fear has come from thinking their is a direct correlation between holding fast to a certain set of doctrines and Godliness.  And conversely, I have thought that to call into question any key doctrine is to immediately slide towards atheism.

It may sound silly, but I think that view is fairly common among orthodox believers.  I have far too often spoken negatively about other religions, and even other branches of Christianity (such as Catholicism) without actually ever having read any of their texts, or any of their key proponents.  In other words, I have never sought to actually get inside their head, their history, and their beliefs.

As a result, my conversations with people who have believed differently, have sadly digressed quickly into debates or arguments over the facts backing the belief system.  These conversations have never led to anything worth remembering.  They are like political debates.  No one actually convinces you of anything, and each side cheers when their view is supported, and no one actually wins.  Or rather, someone does win, but at the expense of the other person.

That’s what I appreciate about Chesterton.  He is trying to go far enough away from home to attempt to see Christ with clear eyes.  He wants to open you up to wonder again.  To see things for the first time.

In order to strike, in the only sane or possible sense, the note of impartiality, it is necessary to touch the nerve of novelty.I mean that in one sense we see things fairly when we see them first.

Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 13-14

I wonder if Crossan is so far inside Christianity, that he is no longer able to see “the White Christ against the red clay of his race.”  He has painted Jesus red.

A work that I could not believe

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I come home from work, and sit on the floor with my children.  We bounce the ball back and forth, but I am distracted.  They laugh and smile, but I want to go into the kitchen and weep like a little baby in Rachel’s arms.

I want to tell her about my day.  How dreadfully boring it was.  How I sat, staring at my computer, wanting to run away from it all, feeling helpless and trapped in an endless avalanche of emails and phone calls and a blinking light with who knows how many messages waiting for me.  People needing my help.  People needing answers.

But I hate to lay this burden on her.  Her day was full of interruptions and little people needing answers, too.

So we eat dinner while the kids chatter away.  They dress for bed.  We brush their teeth.  Our usual routine: sing, read, pray.

They are finally in bed, and she knows my mind is elsewhere.  She wants to know where it is, and what is weighing it down.

Her offer is enough to bring it all back, and I start to tell her, and those tears rush back to the brim of my ducts and pour out.  I tell her how boring it is to sit in front of a computer screen, answering question after question about completely utilitarian things.  Things that I have no interest in whatsoever.  I tell her about the quote I saw at the end of someone’s email.  A quote from Steve Job’s which read, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” and that it felt like someone slapped me across the face, and dumped ice water down my back when I read that, and that I will never do great work there, because I hate what I do.  I hate it.  And I cry some more because it feels so good to say that.

I tell her I am in it for the money, and that I feel stripped of every quality that makes me human, and sucked bone-dry because I am not creating anything.  For those seven work hours, I am nothing more than a candy dispenser.  Put your coin in and I’ll give you an answer.  I shovel dirt out, and someone puts two shovels worth back in.  I never complete anything, and I am never satisfied.

But of course, “I don’t want to complain,” I say.  That would be un-Christian of me.  But she does not see it that way.  She understands, and embraces me in warmth and comfort.

Beyond time is the phrase that I have used to describe this leg of my journey because it was then that I think I first began to have a pale version of the experience that Saint Paul describes in his letter to the Philippians. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” he writes, “for God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  I was a long way from thinking in terms of my own salvation or anybody else’s, but through the people I met…, through the courses I happened to take and the books I happened to read, …through my revulsion at at my own weaknesses as well as through such satisfaction as I had in my own strengths, it seems to me now that a power from beyond time was working to achieve its own aim through my aimless life in time as it works through the lives of all of us and all our times.

Starting to write my first novel was part of it too… because what I developed through the writing of [it] was a sense of plot and, beyond that, a sense that perhaps life itself has a plot–that the events of our lives, random and witless as they generally seem, have a shape and direction of their own, are seeking to show us something, lead us somewhere…. “The mirror reflected what seemed at first a priest,” is the way the book begins, and insofar as what the mirror also reflected was an image, albeit an unconscious one, of myself, I cannot help thinking of that opening sentence as itself just such a whisper, as the first faint intimation from God knows where of the direction my life was even then starting to take me, although if anyone had said so at the time, I would have thought he was mad.

Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey, p. 94-95

I am an aimless cube-dweller.  But could it be that God is working something in me, too?  Through every phone call I pick up, through every effort to be gracious and kind in the face of ungratefulness and blame, through each carefully crafted email explaining the same thing for the fifth time, through taking the time to listen and help someone who has not been able to talk to a live person on the phone — through these things, is God doing a work in me that if I were told, I would not believe it?

I suppose it is possible, and that maybe it is his kindness that I am not aware of the purpose of my time in this cube.  Because, if I were to know the purpose, would I then seek to circumvent the means?

Maybe I never will know the purpose.  Do I need to?  Could I understand the purpose, if told?  Aren’t there hundreds of things that I do for my children — things I say to them, withhold from them, or teach them to do — that were they to ask me “Why?” and were I to attempt to explain it, they still wouldn’t understand it?  Isn’t it a delight when they trust that I have their best in mind?

Does it delight my Father so when I trust him, even without satisfactory answers to all my questions?

Maybe that is all the comfort I need.  Maybe that is all I, too, can handle.  Like a child who cannot understand, but still rests in his Father’s warm and comforting embrace.

St Paul – Farmer K

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Part nineteen.

The St. Paul Library was within walking distance from Apartment 203, and Rachel would occasionally walk there while I was at work, Micaela strapped around her front in the Ergo carrier.

She had become interested in nutrition since the October before, when she found she was pregnant.  We barely knew how to cook, or about ingredients, or the sourcing of those ingredients, and she wanted to take care of herself and baby.

She came home with a few books that introduced us to the concept of Real Food.  The term was strange (“Isn’t all food real?” I wondered), but the concepts made sense.  It was about local, nutrient dense food.  Permaculture rather than monoculture.  Building up soil fertility, rather than sucking it bone dry.

Our food world was only gently rocked, though, until Rachel came home with a  tattered, yellow tome called Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon.  The book had a simple layout, with hand-drawn pictures on each page, and informative sidebars about ingredients and nutrition.  As we tried new recipes, I too, became interested, and we’d read aloud the introductions to each section, or one of the sidebars about the ingredients we were using.

As we read, one of the things we became intrigued by was the proposed health benefits of Raw Milk.  We both loved milk, but were not able to drink it pasteurized without feeling sick.

So, she began to research where this white gold could be found.  She came across the Weston Price directory for Raw Milk dealers (who knew?), and before we knew it, we were put in touch with Farmer K.

We never met Farmer K.  But from his emails, I imagined him to be in his sixties and a hater of technology.  (Or he was just busy doing real work.)  His emails were short, words abbreviated, and ALL IN CAPS.

He had a few drop points in the area, and the closest one for us was a Middle Eastern cafe, across the street from the University.  It took us a little while to figure out the logistics of the whole thing.  For example, he didn’t seem that concerned about payment, as the guy behind the counter wasn’t sure if we should give him the check, or send it through the mail to K.

But soon, we had the system down.  We’d email K on Saturday or Sunday, and we’d pick up on Wednesday.

It wasn’t just the raw milk we were fascinated with, though.  Soon we were purchasing two dozen eggs and two pounds of 80/20 ground beef from K.

It was a simple introduction to local, “real” food, yet I didn’t leave my old ways so quickly.  Trader Joe’s held a lot of temptation for me by way of cleverly marketed food packaging.  I worked hard, and I worked up an appetite.  I remember keeping a load of cashews in my hoodie pocket, and shoving them in my mouth by the handful in the walk-in-freezer so no one could see me.

I usually brought leftover lentil soup, or oatmeal, in a thermos for “dinner”.  But after eating the same thing for weeks on end, I’d sometimes “forget” my lunch so I’d have an excuse to buy a 1.5 lb bag of Mandarin Orange Chicken.  The serving size was supposedly 6 oz, but I’d scarf down the whole bag on my thirty minute break.

I continued to not care too much about what we bought, primarily because food costs money, and we little to spare.  I was taught that the cheaper the food, the better.  This was my food ethic.

Until I watched Food, Inc.  It had just been released that summer, and was making some buzz.  So we picked up a copy from the library.  For 93 minutes I sat spellbound as images of CAFO cows sloshed knee high through their own waste, or hung from tall factory ceilings while men in radioactive suits sawed them in two, or pigs were pushed by the hundreds between moving walls to their slaughter, or chickens confined to cages with barely enough room to stand.  They were woken from dead sleep in the middle of the night, kicked, beaten and thrown into shipping containers.  Fattened with grains, pumped with antibiotics, grown to abnormal sizes, all for the sake of my wallet and dinner plate.  It was Hebrews 11 all over again.  Farm style.

These images were portrayed over and against the permaculture landscape of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, with happy chickens, happy pigs, happy cows, doing their God given task to nurture the soil, and nurture our bodies.

Yes, it was a bit sensationalistic, but nonetheless, a seed planted.  I was not into politics per se, but the politics of food production was fast catching my attention.  We were voting with our dollars, and did what we could to vote for people like Farmer K.

Part eighteen.

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