Monthly Archives: January 2012
Parable and Truth
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the 2007 French film that won numerous awards and was nominated for more including four Oscar nominations, is the true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby. Bauby suffered a stroke and lived his remaining years “locked in” to a body completely paralyzed except for his left eye. He uses this eye, through coded blinking, to dictate his memoir of the same name. I find something extraordinarily beautiful about the way Bauby chooses to express himself poetically despite the tediousness of the task and the utterly humiliating state of being he is reduced to from his former position of influence and affluence.
Watching films like this make me wonder at the amazing imagination we have been given. Story has often been considered falsehood or at best escapism, yet the tide is shifting as we come to realize the power of imagination for good purpose. Indeed, our imagination is just one way we are imaging our Creator. We have an imaginative God who speaks to us in more than just a list of dos and don’ts. So, too, do we have this ability to share truth through story.
When I was in seminary, my Storytelling professor, Olive Drane, told us a story about the twin boys Truth and Parable. In the story, Truth has an urgent message to share with his town. In his haste, Truth runs into the town square stark naked, shouting his news to all who will hear him. But the townspeople are horrified by Truth’s display, beat him, and send him away.
Discouraged, Truth returns home to his twin brother, Parable, who is well-respected in the town. Parable cleans his brother’s wounds, gives Truth his own clothes to cover his nakedness, and encourages Truth to try again. This time, when Truth returns to the town square wearing Parable’s clothes, the townspeople listen to his message and accept him.
But might people miss the truth we want to convey if we cover it with story? Isn’t it safer to speak the truth plainly and ensure we are heard?
Even artists disagree on the appropriate balance between story and truth. Poet Emily Dickinson wrote famously, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.” Yet Southern short story author Flannery O’Connor one wrote in an article that she was determined to write her message “in large print on the wall so that the blind could see it.” Is it subtlety, then, or shouting that wins the day? To put it another way, how many layers of Parable’s clothes must Truth wear before the townspeople will accept him?
Perhaps it depends on the message. Perhaps it depends on the artist. Perhaps it depends on the audience.
In the film, Bauby shares his life story in painful detail, yet the success of his life lies not in his worldly accomplishments but in his ability to imagine, to feed his soul though he is “locked in.” Rather than dictating a minimalist report of his life, which would have been so much easier, Bauby chooses to make the extra effort to show the truth of his experience and the truth of the person he has come to be–with all his flaws–through story.
Bauby didn’t set out to write a book. He didn’t grow up taking creative writing classes or attending seminars. He was a magazine editor, interested in the world of fashion. But he had something to say, and before he died, he took the time to say it. And the world is better for having heard and learned from his story.
Maybe you think to yourself, I’m not an artist. I don’t have a story to tell. But you’re wrong. Everyone has a story. Maybe it’s not a fable like the Princess and the Pea. Maybe it’s not an award-winning novel like The Old Man and the Sea. But it’s part of who you are. And the world will be better off having your story, too.
Jesus, who is the Truth, spoke often in parable and usually refused to explain himself even to his disciples. We’ll take a look at why Jesus spoke in parables tomorrow.
Sharing Our Stories
In high school, I went on a mission trip to Brazil to perform a mimed drama to Portuguese narration as a form of evangelism. We “told” the story of the Toymaker who sent his Son to Toyland to break the Evil Magician’s barrier of Greed, Hate, Fear, Pride, and Anxiety and restore the relationship of the Toys with the Toymaker who loved them. I remember the one day out of our time in Brazil when our group had the highest response to our story.
Everything else had gone wrong that day, so it was no surprise to us when—after we had gathered children and their parents on the playground, broken the ice with funny skits, and taken up our positions to begin the drama—the sound equipment failed. It took two hours to fix the problem, and in the meantime, our group had to figure out how to entertain nearly 60 children to keep them from leaving.
So we played with them, pushing them on the swings and riding with them on the see-saw. Even though we couldn’t exchange a word, we bonded through a common activity, so that when we finally performed the drama to tell God’s story to people who longed to hear it, every hand went up across the crowd. Every child, every parent wanted to know more about this Toymaker who we’d gone to so much trouble to tell them about.
That was my introduction to “the ministry of hanging out,” building relationships through common experiences and then sharing our stories with each other when vulnerability has become possible. I took that lesson to heart and expanded it in college when a friend and I instituted “Tea in the Hallway.” Every night from 11 at night until whenever people went to bed (which was sometimes as late as 6 in the morning!), my friend and I hosted anyone who wanted to come sit in the hallway, drink some tea (or apple cider for those less inclined), and talk about anything at all. Some nights we had debates about philosophy and God. Other nights, we took care of inebriated students. And occasionally, when most people had gone to bed, someone would linger over a mug of tea and whisper shameful secrets or painful experiences, just because in that moment of vulnerability, there was a raw need for sharing the story in a safe space.
It was during these occasional moments that I learned, really learned, how to listen.
Listening came in handy when I began my honors research project my senior year of college as an exploration into the realm of creative non-fiction. Over almost a year, I interviewed family members and friends of my grandfather, who had died just two years before. I learned quickly that it only took one or two questions to get the ball rolling, and then all I had to do was try to keep up as the stories and reflections poured out.
The story of my grandfather became the story of my family, and my story, too. And in telling these stories, I learned how to clothe the truth in…well, story. Here are some of my reflection on the nature of story and storytelling (or writing) when trying to capture not just what a person said and did but the true essence of a person:
Family stories are all connected. Pleasant or not, it’s hard to separate ourselves from someone in whom we have part of our identity. In fact, to do so would be to deny part of the story. In this way his story becomes our story, too.
When I presented my work to the faculty, I introduced my process this way:
I always liked Chaucer’s line from the movie A Knight’s Tale, “Yes, I lied. I’m a writer. I give the truth scope!” Scope is what I wanted to give my readers in this effort at cultivating a creative piece of writing. It is an essay in the true sense: an effort, a try, as I looked for the balance between historicity and fiction, and I found the tight-rope called memory.
What I want to point out is the flexibility of memory. I was so intrigued at the different little things people remember about my grandfather, and more particularly, the way they remember them. For instance, there is a hot debate at the moment between my mother and one of my uncles over whether my grandfather used to be referred to on the mission field as a “wild man” or as a “wild Indian.” Not that it matters, but the point is that our memories are fluid things, always moving and changing and impressionable. And faulty.
I have taken it upon myself in this little work to sort through all the memories from the interview process as well as the contributions made by email and online posts. I sorted through all the conflicting images and stories, to the reality of who he was not just actually but as we remember him.
This balance between fiction and historical fact is what the gospel writers struggled with as they told their different stories about the same Jesus. When we share our own stories with each other, there is always that element of choice involved. We filter our stories according to the audience and the level of intimacy reached. What I am learning through these experiences is how to foster that level of intimacy, how to create safe space for people to be vulnerable and share their stories.
It is only through sharing that community is truly built, especially in contemporary society where emphasis is placed on the individual, on being self-sufficient. We succeed, and we succeed on our own. And when we get to the top, we are lonely and ashamed of what we did to make it there. We look around for a safe space to apologize, to make it right, and to try again. It is the church’s job to provide that safe space, in whatever way possible.
Holistic body theology is about more than who we are and what we look like. It’s also about what we do with our bodies in the world. We were not created to be alone but to be in community. Through our stories, we connect with deep truth within ourselves, we connect with each other, and we connect with God.
This week, we’ll explore the power of story both for speaking truth and for fostering community. For today, think of your experience with story, and share in a comment box below.
Forward Friday: My Identity In Christ
Adapted from “Morning Affirmations” by Kenneth Boa
Every morning for a month, try beginning the day by reading aloud the following scriptural affirmations. If you like to journal, keep track of your thoughts and comments about yourself over the month. Note any verses that have special meaning for you or impact on your daily life. Allow God to reveal to you the truth about yourself. Ask God to help you replace the lies you may have been believing with these truths.
1) “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
2) I have forgiveness from the penalty of sin because Christ died for me. (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3)
3) I have freedom from the power of sin because I died with Christ. (Colossians 2:11; 1 Peter 2:24)
4) I have fulfillment for this day because Christ lives in me. (Philippians 1:20-21)
5) By faith, I will allow Christ to manifest his life though me. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
There is so much more God tells us about who we are. Find some for yourself and share them in the comments section.
Guest Post: Insecurity and the Media
Introducing my first guest poster: Matt Cavanaugh
There is power in security. This may pertain to financial security… intellectual security… or physical security.
For years leading up to the neo-women’s lib movement of the 90’s, marketing guru’s assaulted women with example after example of how women needed to attain a physical standard possible for very few women. This marketing strategy was consistently successful and led to mondo sales in makeup products, corrective surgeries, and anything else that would propose to fix a woman’s sense of insecurity. However, in the 90’s and early 2000’s, the tide began to change and the standards set forth for women began to be a bit more attainable. More and more women became comfortable (or more comfortable at least) in their own skin. The result? Marketing guru’s shifted their focus more to men: specifically towards creating insecurities towards men.
In came the erectile dysfunction ads, the increase in male skin being shown in magazines, countless haircare products aimed at preventing baldness, diet pills specific for men, etc… These marketing strategies worked and lucrative companies were birthed around “curing” men of these insecurities. Eating disorders and depression became more common in men. Physical insecurity, specifically, has become a much more prominent issue for men in the last two decades.
So what does this have to do with body theology? In truth, everything. How difficult is it to worship the Lord, to feel proud, to feel confident when a person feels overwhelming shame and guilt towards their own appearance? Talk about handcuffing!
The fact of the matter is that both men and women are increasingly under attack within the media of today’s world. So what do we do? Do we unplug from the media around us? That is for you to decide for yourself. Me…well… I choose to remain connected to tv, radio, movies, magazines… but I always attempt to see media for what it is: entertainment that often promotes a false reality. I’m never going to look like Brad Pitt or David Beckham and I’m completely ok with that.
My goal in life, in faith, and in everything else is to heed Tony Horton’s advice in his P90x workout routine: “To do my best and forget the rest.” My best is good enough for myself, the people that care for me, and most importantly, my Lord and Savior who loves me and my imperfections all the same.
Matt Cavanaugh is a blogger, newspaper columnist, avid hiker, and lover of the outdoors. You can read about his many excursions at OutdoorsInCali.com.
Identity in Christ
Yesterday we looked at the dangers of self-deprecation and believing lies about ourselves. Sometimes we can get caught up in what the world, other people, and even what we say about ourselves. When that happens, it’s much harder to recognize the truth anymore. Sometimes we can be so overcome by the lies we believe about ourselves that we no longer hear God’s speaking truth over us.
But we’re in luck. God tells us all about who God is and who we as Christians are because of God. God is the great I Am, the Beginning and the End. There is nothing that God does not understand or know about or control. Despite sin and evil in the world, God’s opinion of us has not changed because of who we are in Christ. Finding the truth about ourselves is as simple as cracking open a book. Let’s take a little tour this morning and hit some of the highlights.
God created us in the image of God. (Gen 1:27)
We are God’s good creation. (Gen 1:31)
Our bodies are not shamful. (Gen 2:25)
God created our spirits and our bodies from the moment of conception. (Ps 139:13)
We have the Spirit of Truth living in us. (Jn 14:16-17)
We are like Christ not only in death but also in the resurrection. (Rom 6:5; Rom 8:10-11)
There is no condemnation for us because of Jesus. (Rom 8:1-2)
We are the temple of God. (1Cor 3:16)
We are part of the body of Christ in equality because of the Holy Spirit. (1Cor 12:13)
We are being transformed into the image of God by the Holy Spirit. (2Cor 3:18)
Our bodies contain the glory of God. (2Cor 4:6-7)
We are new creations. (2Cor 5:17)
We are the children of God and God’s heirs. (Gal 4:6-7)
We are complete in Christ. (Col 2:10)
We are new and are being renewed according to the image of God. (Col 3:9-10)
We are from God and are overcomers. (1Jn 4:4)
These are just a few of the truths God has shared with us through scripture about our identity through Christ. Next time you’re tempted to believe lies about yourself, go back to this list and remind yourself of the truth of who you are.
When God’s truth is the basis for our identity, we are better equipped to be discerning about messages we receive elsewhere. More on that tomorrow.
I used to be very self-deprecating.
Growing up, I developed a very low opinion of myself, and because of what I thought about myself, I assumed that’s what everyone else thought about me, too. We all know how mean children can be to each other, and I learned early on that it was safer to make fun of myself before other people had a chance to highlight my faults. Even when the other kids weren’t being mean, I went right on protecting myself with self-deprecating comments until what I said about myself became what I believed about myself.
Dictionary.com defines self-deprecation as “belittling or undervaluing oneself; excessively modest.” As I got older and learned in Sunday School about the dangers of pride, I thought my self-deprecation fell into the category of false humility. I thought I made derogatory comments about myself and deflected compliments because I really had a too-high opinion of myself and was trying to mask my excessive pride. So I tried to lower my opinion of myself even more and reject any praise as pride. I thought I was finished caring what other people thought about me.
What I didn’t realize was that I cared an awful lot about what I thought of myself.
Fast forward a few more years, and I began to realize that deflecting compliments only made the conversation longer as people persisted in highlighting something positive about myself that I could not believe or receive. Prolonging the conversation with self-deprecation only made me more uncomfortable and the compliment-giver try harder to convince me they were right. So I began to thank people and immediately change the subject so they would think I had really accepted the compliment when in fact I knew that accepting a compliment (which in my mind was synonymous with caring what others think) was only being prideful.
Then one day while I was working in the bookstore as a graduate student, I had a God-moment. Without any provocation and while having a conversation with my coworker about something completely unrelated, I realized I had been self-deprecating for so many years because I had low self-esteem.
Now, low self-esteem was always something other people had, those sorry individuals who were chained to the opinions of others, or maybe my 7th-grade self. But no, not the graduate student with big dreams of becoming a writer someday and making a real difference in the world. I didn’t have low-self esteem. I had pride and false humility and clever tricks to refocus a conversation. I was self-deprecating because it was funny or charming…or true.
Uh-oh. There it was: the truth. I was self-deprecating because I believed I was little and had no value. I deflected compliments not to be modest but because I believed I was unworthy of any praise. I was self-deprecating because that was what I really believed about myself.
So I decided, right in the middle of that unrelated conversation with my coworker, to try a little experiment. If I really believed what I said about myself, maybe I could improve my self-esteem by saying something appreciative about myself. At that moment, my coworker said, “That’s a good point.” And I said, “Thank you. I make excellent points.”
Now, I was being hyperbolic, and he knew it, and we both chuckled and carried on with our discussion. It was a small moment. My coworker probably never noticed anything had changed. But I did. I noticed. And I haven’t stopped noticing.
Maybe some of you lovely readers really do struggle with pride or false humility, and I have been there, too. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but this post isn’t meant to warn you against false humility. It’s to warn you against the other side of that coin.
What we think about ourselves matters, and what we say about ourselves influences what we think about ourselves. Our words have power. (There’s actual brain stuff involved there, but I’ll save the science for another day.) So next time you make a comment about yourself, think about what you’re saying, and ask yourself if it’s true. Maybe it’s what you believe about yourself, but is it really true?
Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you’re not sure what’s true anymore. Maybe you’ve gotten so wrapped up in what your friends say, what your parents say, what your classmates or coworkers say, what your boss says, what that magazine quiz you took in the check-out isle says, what the movies and TV shows and self-help books and all the rest of the world says about who you are that you can’t hear what God says anymore. God’s voice was drowned out a long time ago, and now you’re not sure you can believe anything you think you hear, even from yourself.
Well, then you’re in luck. God wrote down a bunch of the stuff we need to know about who we are. (We’ll take a look at some of that stuff tomorrow.)
So for all you self-deprecators out there, next time you start to make a comment about yourself, try a little experiment. Try saying something nice about yourself instead. You’ll probably still make a joke out of it. You probably still won’t believe it. At first. But try it again the next day, and the next.
God just might surprise you by speaking to you in your own powerful words.
Forward Friday – A Series
Body theology is the study of God in relation to our bodies. But no study is complete if it is not paired with practice. It’s time to add a little action and weave in a little work with Forward Friday.
Every Friday, I’ll suggest one activity we can try to help keep us moving toward a healthy, holistic understanding of who we are as God’s uniquely designed bodyselves. Try it out and leave a comment to share your experience.
Since we’ve been talking this week about gender-inclusive language, let’s put some of those ideas into practice this weekend.
Read a passage of scripture aloud, and swap out male pronouns for female ones (and vice versa). Be sure to choose a passage that mentions people and God. Read the passage several times, out loud, and allow yourself to be affected by the change in language. Ask God to help make you more mindful of how your language affects others and how others’ language affects you. Allow the Holy Spirit to work through your intentional reading of scripture to move you forward toward a healthy, holistic body theology.
For women, notice the difference when reading yourself into the story of God so explicitly and allow God to speak to you and bring any healing you might experience as a result.
For men, notice the difference when having to do the extra mental work of reading yourself into the story of God implicitly and allow God to reveal any truth about the experience of the marginalized and perhaps challenge you to work for more freedom and equality among men and women in the world.
Here are two examples to help you get started. Try any other passage as well and leave a comment to let me know what you tried.
Blessed is the woman who does not walk in step with the wicked women or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on her law day and night. She is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever she does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked women will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous woman, but the way of the wicked woman leads to destruction.
The Parable of the Lost Daughter (Luke 15:11-32)
Jesus continued: “There was a woman who had two daughters. 12The younger one said to her mother, ‘Mother, give me my share of the estate.’ So she divided her property between them. Not long after that, the younger daughter got together all she had, set off for a distant country and there squandered her wealth in wild living. After she had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and she began to be in need. So she went and hired herself out to a citizen of that country, who sent her to her fields to feed pigs. She longed to fill her stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave her anything. When she came to her senses, she said, ‘How many of my mother’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my mother and say to her: Mother, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your daughter; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So she got up and went to her mother. But while she was still a long way off, her mother saw her and was filled with compassion for her; she ran to her daughter, threw her arms around her and kissed her. The daughter said to her, ‘Mother, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your daughter.’ “But the mother said to her servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on her. Put a ring on her finger and sandals on her feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this daughter of mine was dead and is alive again; she was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older daughter was in the field. When she came near the house, she heard music and dancing. So she called one of the servants and asked her what was going on. ‘Your sister has come,’ she replied, ‘and your mother has killed the fattened calf because she has her back safe and sound.’ The older daughter became angry and refused to go in. So her mother went out and pleaded with her. But she answered her mother, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this daughter of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for her!’ ‘My daughter,’ the mother said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this sister of yours was dead and is alive again; she was lost and is found.’”