Parables for Lent

Over the last month or so, I’ve had the great joy of reading through the parables collected in Peter Rollins’ book The Orthodox Heretic. The more I read and am shaped by the indispensable language of poetry, story, and parable, the more I am convinced that we cannot do without what is “said” within them. It is why, for example, in moments of intense gratitude and awareness in the wake of Christ (Mary contemplating the immense possibility of the child in her womb, Paul proclaiming the unspeakable glory of Christ), cold prose will not suffice. In such moments, and forever after them, the language that strikes nearest the full depth the divine will be poetic, metaphorical, and symbolic in nature.

And thus, Pete Rollins’ parables: speaking beautifully to the radical nature of Christ, the kingdom, faith, and doubt in ways that both enlighten and mystify, they are a testament to the power of poetic/parabolic uttering.

And so, over the next few days I will be posting a handful of parables from Pete’s book that are especially relevant not only to the journey that those of us from Amos House find ourselves on, but for the now-underway season of Lent as well.

“Salvation for a Demon”

In the center of a once-great city there stood a magnificent cathedral that was cared for by a kindly old priest who spent his days praying in the vestry and caring for the poor. As a result of the priest’s tireless work, the cathedral was known throughout the land as a true sanctuary. The priest welcomed all who came to his door and gave completely without prejudice or restraint. Each stranger was, to the priest, a neighbor in need and thus the incoming of Christ. His hospitality was famous and his heart was known to be pure. No one could steal from this old man, for he considered no possession his own, and while thieves sometimes left that place with items pillaged from the sanctuary, the priest never grew concerned: he had given everything to God and knew that these people needed such items more than the church did.

Early one evening in the middle of winter, while the priest was praying before the cross, there was a loud and ominous knock on the cathedral door. The priest quickly got to his feet and went to the entrance, as he knew it was a terrible night and reasoned that his visitor might be in need of shelter.

Upon opening the door he was surprised to find a terrifying demon towering over him with large dead eyes and rotting flesh.

“Old man,” the demon hissed, “I have traveled many miles to seek your shelter. Will you welcome me in?”

Without hesitation, the priest bid this hideous demon welcome and beckoned him into the church. The evil demon stooped down and stepped across the threshold, spitting venom onto the tiled floor as he went. In full view of the priest, the demon proceeded to tear down the various icons that adorned the walls and rip the fine linens that hung around the sanctuary, while screaming blasphemy and curses.

During this time the priest knelt silently on the floor and continued in his devotions until it was time for him to retire for the night.

“Old man,” cried the demon, “where are you going now?”

“I am returning home to rest, for it has been a long day,” replied the kindly priest.

“May I come with you?” spat the demon. “I too am tired and in need of a place to lay my head.”

“Why, of course,” replied the priest. “Come, and I will prepare a meal.”

On returning to his house, the priest prepared some food while the evil demon mocked the priest and broke the various religious artifacts that adorned his humble dwelling. The demon then ate the meal that was provided and afterward turned his attention to the priest,

“Old man, you welcomed me first into your church and then into your house. I have one more request for you: will you now welcome me into your heart?”

“Why, of course,” said the priest, “what I have is yours and what I am is yours.”

This heartfelt response brought the demon to a standstill, for by giving everything the priest had retained the very thing that the demon sought to take. For the demon was unable to rob him of his kindness and his hospitality, his love and his compassion. And so the great demon left in defeat, never to return.

What happened to that demon after this meeting with the elderly priest is anyone’s guess. Some say that although he left that place empty-handed he received more than he could ever have imagined.

And the priest? He simply ascended his stairs, got into bed and drifted off to sleep, all the time wondering what guise his Christ would take next.

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14 comments

  1. I found your “Parable” quite disgusting and heretical. There is no salvation for the “demom/devil.” Satan is the father of all lies and must be quite pleased with your false ideology. St. Paul warns us … do not let every “false gospel” tickle your ears. I consider that you have been badly misled. Christ would never come disquised as a demom because that requires trickery … a kind of cunning deviousness … which Christ certainly was not either one of those!

  2. Bonnie,

    A few observations and clarifications.

    For the record, we didn’t come up with this parable. An Irish philosopher/thinker/Christ-follower Peter Rollins did.

    I want to recall here that Jesus spoke in parables, and, at least from what we have to judge from the recorded gospels, he spoke in parables seemingly more than in any other form of speech. Now it seems you’ve taken issue with a detail in the parable, but I’d argue that you’ve done so in such a way that you’ve missed what’s at stake in the parable, and what there is to learn from it.

    Living as we are on the far side of the Enlightenment, in which rational thought was raised up as the highest virtue, we seem to have lost the ability to use our imaginations, to see the truth of fiction, poetry, and parable. What we miss when we read scripture, and Jesus in particular, then, is that the truth, as he offered it, is realized by way of imagination and metaphor. When we read the Bible as a text book or a phone book, as a book of propositions to be agreed with on a merely intellectual level, then we are guilty of projecting a literalism and rationalism onto texts that did not accompany their original creation or utterance.

    What we see in this parable, just as in Jesus’ parables, is the use of metaphor (a form of “carrying over” meaning from one realm to another, using the things of this world) to expound a spiritual truth. What is that truth? That the call to be a hospitable people (we find this from the OT all the way into the New) is a radical one, one that will find us confronting “demons”. And so you’re right, in one sense, to be offended by this parable. (As Kierkegaard said, Christ IS offense… he upsets and throws off course all of our notions of what is normal and decent). Indeed, it is offensive that we would be asked to show such radical hospitality that we’d even show hospitality to a demon. But this isn’t such an unusual thought in the history of spiritual theology. Indeed, the earliest Christian monks believed that the only way to defeat demons was to disarm them with rather strange and peculiar actions rooted in Christ’s love. That’s what happens in this parable: the priest’s love and Christ-likeness runs so deep that love defeats evil (the demon is disarmed, crushed, and goes away). But again, it is difficult to understand this if all we can see is some false theology based on details such as the devil’s ‘trickery’, etc.

    To say that this is some form of trickery, and to render us ‘misled’ and proposing false ‘ideology’ for posting this wonderful parable is sad to me, because it reveals a stark loss of imagination. Christ provoked the imaginations of his listeners, and even offended them on more than one occasion (he was crucified, after all).

    I hope you’ll reflect on the fact that such a quick judgment of this parable (and all of us as a result) was a mistake.

    It’s easy to find the errors in people’s thinking if that’s what we set out to do from the start. But we ought to judge more on action (and even on the finer nuances of our language) rather than by way of a haughty judgment of a parable. And remember that parables are never meant to be picked apart with the rational mechanisms we use to tear people down. To do so is to miss out on the gift that parables–and other people–offer.

    If God wanted to give us a phone book or a book of propositions instead of what we know as the Bible, he would have done so. But rather, he gave us a colorfully diverse collection of highly literary writings that–because they are so well-imagined–are the very truth of the cosmos. And just as the creator creates, we are called to be co-creators. Pete Rollins has followed in this tradition by creating these parables, and we at Amos House are better people for having been exposed to his parables (parables that are both challenging and enriching if you read them as you’d read any other story–with imagination, with a willingness to be shocked into another way of seeing).

    I apologize for offending you. But I hope you’ll take the time to reconsider. If a reconsideration leaves you still wanting, then I’m doubly sorry that you’ve missed out on what this parable has to offer.

    And if, by some stray chance, your words arose out of a distaste for something other than the parable itself (for instance, as a result of our work with the people of Tent City), then I hope that you’ll take the time to speak directly to matters at hand, rather than through locating some sort of false theology, thus channeling frustration through another route. (If, on the other hand, this isn’t the case, that you only read this parable, then ignore what I’m saying in this paragraph. Forgive me–we live in expectation of accusation these days. See our most recent posts for more information on that.)

    Peace,
    Andrew

  3. Dear Andrew, thank you for taking the time to address my concerns. I did not mean for my comments to be a personal attack on you. I know exactly the point that the parable is trying to make and I still find the parable disagreeable.

    I understand what you are trying to say. But our imagination is only that …. imagination. My beliefs are founded on truths rooted in the bible; and of this one thing I am sure of. God is a God of Light … in Him there is no darkness. He does not clothe himself in a garment of deception and veiled illusions. No person, however holy, would invite evil to come reside in their homes or hearts. Rather Christ sought constantly to drive out the “demons” or devils. This parable defies not only truth but logic. I love to read Aesops fables and Grimms Fairytales … they made sense to me. However in the fables … and in the fairy tales, the wolf was always a wolf and acted like a wolf …

    Please let me put your mind to rest in regards to the homeless and poor. I have taken taken in the homeless … more than once … total strangers whom I knew nothing about. I rescued a pregnant 22 year old woman who came to the church door looking for a place to stay. Our pastor called me and asked if I knew where she could go. I came and got her immediatly … no questions asked. She had ran away from her abusive boyfriend …. her parents wouldn’t let her come back home to “teach her a lesson” about the choices she made and the company she kept. She stayed with me untill the baby was 2 months old. She wrote and told her parents about how much we cared for her and her little baby boy. They were touched that someone would take in a total stranger and their hearts were changed. They decided to give her another chance.

    I have many such stories that I could tell you about the homeless … personal encounters … not from a distance. But I also know the hazards of this ministry. Once I found myself in the middle of a gunfight on 6th and Sylvan, bullets were whizzing over my head. I did not feel afraid. I was taking communion to an elderly woman there. Her son was a homeless veteran who happened to be visiting her that day ( he had a drinking problem and she couldn’t let him stay with her; he would sometimes get violent.) But when he saw me dazed by the flash of fire and an artillary of police rushing the scene, he bolted out her front door and grabbed me by the arm and shoved me up the sidewalk to safety yelling all the while; ” Get in here, sis, you’re gonna get killed!!!” There is gallantry even in the projects.

    But please, do not judge others who do not share our passion so deeply. They are good people too, and sometimes it is not a matter of prejudice but one of fear. Fear is not a bad thing sometimes. Once when I found myself in a predictament I felt ashamed that I was afraid. I told my pastor that I did not want fear to limit the choice that was put before me. He told me this; It is ok, my dear child to have an open heart and and open mind, but remember this … not so much that your brain falls out. We do have to make reasoned decisions; we cannot always act purely from the heart. Prudence is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is a hard choice and not always an easy one to know what to do sometimes. When we put ourselves in the line of fire or in harm’s way, there is a consequence. And sometimes; just sometimes God want’s us to say “no, not this time … or no, not this way.” Somebody else’s no, may mean an opportunity me to say yes. Even the homeless and destite are not exempt. Somebody else’s no is an opportunity for them to say yes, I forgive. We all need to do that, we all need to learn that God’s way’s is not man’s ways and God, though he is not a trickster, or an illusionist, is a God of mystery.

    When we encounter Christ on judgment day, of one thing we can both be sure of … it will not be of our imagination. The Risen Christ will be in the flesh.

    I am Sincerely … Bonnie R.

  4. Bonnie,

    Thanks for the response.

    A few things…

    I’m glad you’ve had the experiences you’ve had. It’s clear God has used you for the sake of others, and has even used others for your sake. It is good to know that we share something of a similar concern in this regard. What a gift.

    But I must say I’m still thrown off by your warning not to “judge others who don’t share our passion so deeply.” On one hand, I understand it, but on another, it seems a reference to something else you’ve read on this blog (because I don’t see anything in my comment that would lead you to say that. But I could be blind.)

    I think it’s important that we look honestly at the difference between “judging” and calling out, or calling to attention (a prophetic act). It seems to me that it’s easy to be over-reactive in response to words that call others to task, to attention–because they make everyone involved very uncomfortable. We might ask ourselves: Was the prophet Amos being judgmental when he condemned the people of God for trampling the poor while also claiming to praise God? Was Jeremiah judging others when he condemned the wealthy for ignoring the needs of their poor workers? Their words were quite harsh, offensive even. So could they rightly be accused of being judgmental? Were they not “prophets”? Individuals who called people to attention, who used their words to stir people awake out of their slumber? I believe it is of utmost importance that we more carefully consider the difference between the two. We at Amos House seek not to judge (i.e., we don’t say, “Those people are hell-bound for their actions.”) We are not gods ourselves. We have no right to say such things. But if God rose up any of his children at any point in history to speak truth to power (even when it hurts), then by all means, we ought to be able to do the same if the Spirit so stirs us.

    If you feel this line has been crossed somewhere, we’d be glad for someone to show us so that we can try to nuance our words in more helpful ways. But if you ask us not to say the hard things to people who are, in some sense, “asleep”, in order to wake them up, then you’ve asked us to abandon a vocation that we understand as being of God. But the way we go about it is absolutely up for discussion. Absolutely. (In fact, we discuss it amongst ourselves, and sometimes even disagree on what the right words/posture are). We, just like everyone else, are capable of acting and speaking in unhelpful ways.

    As far as the parable is concerned, I’m still not sure you’re hearing me (or the parable). You say, “I know exactly the point that the parable is trying to make…” What I want you to hear is that parables do not try to “make points”. Parables are not, contrary to popular belief, riddles. They are not puzzles to be unlocked. Again, I believe it’s the residue of the Enlightenment and other logic-based ways of thinking that would have us believe as much about parables. Now this is not to say that Jesus was not trying to “say” something through his parables. But if he wanted to offer some abstractable nugget of truth instead of speaking in parables, I believe he would have done so (as you say, he doesn’t try to deceive). But the truth is, many aspects of the parables are open to interpretation (which to me says that God is much the same–we’re misled if we think we can nail him down to a point of argument or ideology). Jesus spoke in parables because stories, narratives, poetic utterances are where truth lies–not in some laundry list of our all-too-certain understanding of God. Or at least this is how I see it.

    And so, again, I feel you’re approaching parables as a sort of superficial, ornate, surface-level cover up for the REAL truth that’s hiding somewhere deep within it. But the parable IS the truth–it can’t be said any other way. The medium is the message. This is why we can say that stories that are called “fiction” are deeply “true”–because they speak to the reality of our condition in a way that proposition-based language cannot even begin to grasp.

    I also take issue with your claim that God does not veil himself or hide in anyway. This seems problematic to me when we consider that Christ claims that the primary way he does come is through the guise of other people (Matt. 25), of the things of this world, God’s creation.

    In the end, I think we have radically different understandings of how “imagination” functions in our world. From your words, I gather that you see imagination primarily as a means of escape, of fantasy, of a retreat from real things, some sort of la-la land. What I am wanting to suggest is that, whether we realize it or not, imagination 1) is a quite legitimate way of knowing, and 2) imagination undergirds almost all of our thinking. So when I employ the word “imagination” I’m saying that we cannot pray, cannot act compassionately, cannot heal wounds, cannot speak of God without using our imaginations (which is NOT to say we make it up! It’s to say that the faculty of the imagination is the creative muscle that God gives us to see the world through different eyes–His eyes). Imagination and concrete action and thought and language are very much intertwined.

    I would also suggest that we are misled if we think we can so easily claim our knowledge as absolute, as fool-proof, as the end-all, conclusive hold on the way things are on earth and in the cosmos. To say we’ve read the Bible long and hard is not to say we’ve got a handle on the truth–it’s to say we’ve read the Bible long and hard, which means we’ve INTERPRETED the Bible from our particular time and place and culture long and hard. The world and time and space and history is bigger than our own way of seeing and “knowing”.

    For instance, it’s possible to say that God veils himself in darkness WITHOUT meaning he’s some sort of evil deity. In fact, that’s the language some of the earliest Christians used to describe God as a God of mystery, as a God who comes through suffering, through illness, even through darkness (both literal darkness, and the “darkness” of evil–which is to say he uses it to reveal himself, and thereby overcomes it). Your reading of the parable feels oversimplified…and the fact that it led you to say we propound a false ideology is why I’m even taking the time to discuss any of this as passionately as I am–because if our particular claims to truth and the reality of things lead us to so quickly and easily condemn without any foreknowledge of where the other person is coming from, then something is amiss.

    I really don’t believe it’s ever so simple as to say “Satan must be pleased with your false ideology.” If we find ourselves saying such things, I really think it’s time to take a step back and acknowledge our limited perceptions, and to realize that our metaphors for God (i.e., he is only “light”, never “dark”) are not to be mistaken for God himself. When we’ve done that, we’ve made an idol of our limited, finite interpretations. As you say, God is mystery–which is to say, he confounds even our words “dark”, “light”, etc.

    I’ll also add this quote from Sallie McFague TeSelle: “A theology that is informed by parables is necessarily a risky and open-ended kind of reflection. It recognizes not only the inconclusiveness of all conceptualization when dealing with matters between God and human beings…but also the pain and skepticism–the dis-ease–of such reflection.”

    I hope some of this makes sense. I do realize, though, that we’re coming at all of this from two very different perspectives, at least concerning how we read scripture. Which is OK. Where things get tricky is when we use our perspectives to tear others down (which is really a way of saying that our way of seeing is supreme and immune to all questioning).

    I hope, if there’s more to be said on these matters, that we can continue to do so authentically and honestly.

    And it’s OK to disagree, but it’s also important to do what we’re doing here. In the end, I’m glad we’ve discovered we share similar experiences and passions for discovering God in the margins. Blessings as you continue to find Him there.

    Peace,
    Andrew

  5. Andrew; Well, yes …. I am in one sense of the word a very simple person. However I do not lack imagination, nor do I lack the appreciation of really good literature, poetry, art, music etc. But our imaginations are not of the “highest order.” We can be decieved by our imaginations because our imaginations are intimitaly connected to our other side of the brain. One cannot operate independantly of the other, though in some individuals one part of the brain seems to be a dominant force. Where do thoughts come from? They come from within our own lived experiences … “If I touch a hot fire I’ll get burned.” Or they can come from other sources … even outside our lived experience or physical realm. They can be planted into our rational mind or creative imagination , I am refering here to spiritual beings/angels and demons. Do you believe in either one of them? You’ve given me a lot of information about what you believe; about your vision of the “prophetic mission.” I on the other hand relate more closely to the mission of the “servant.” I will have to read your response more thoroughly and closely to give justice to your response. Once again thank you for taking the time to address my concerns. Yes, I have read other posts outside of this one on your website. I’ve heard all those comments before. Some of the things that were said to you have been said to me. God’s blessings be with you. I am still; Sincerely … Bonnie R.

    1. Bonnie,

      I appreciate your response. And will keep this short–for once!

      You’re right to distinguish between imagination and other faculties. I acknowledge similar distinctions, however I think the way the lines have been drawn traditionally have been, at times, unhelpful. And I promise I’m not on a one-man mission here; there are a handful of writers out there who will say similar things. (Two of my favorite resources: Walter Brueggemann, “The Prophetic Imagination” and Sallie TeSelle, “Speaking in Parables”). Of course, just because some scholar backs me up doesn’t mean I’m right in any sense, only that I’m quite taken with their reflections on the subject. Indeed, it’s been an important part of my life as well, and I’m glad it’s been part of yours. My wife and I had the opportunity to conduct creative writing workshops with homeless men and women a few years ago. We also conduct similar workshops with our dear friends at the women’s prison. These are worlds that converge for us–so I apologize for my over-intensity with some of my thoughts: they lie close to my heart.

      And yes, I believe in angels and demons. I believe angels attend to the world and to each of us and I believe demons inhabit individuals, and that they even hold institutions and larger bodies captive as well. But I still hold to the notion that we can’t believe in angels and demons without a sense of imagination–which is NOT to say we make them up. I’m sticking to the difference between those two. This is why I insist on the faculty of imagination as such an important thing in the life of the Christ-follower–because even imaginations can be held captive, as I think I hear you say, which is why we ought to seek to root ourselves in God’s way of seeing (imaginative seeing–imaginative because the “world” lacks the imagination to overcome the idea that there’s anything more to life).

      Lastly, I value your notion of “servant”. It’s the way of the cross, the suffering servant Jesus. One can’t be a disciple without being a servant. But I want to insist that servitude isn’t, as you seem to say, “on the other hand”–separate from prophetic witness. Jesus acted both as prophet and servant; they are two sides of the same coin. We are prophets because we see that the world does not know what it means to be a servant, and so we seek to call others to task on that vocation. And sometimes, the best way to speak prophetically is simply to be a servant, even if (especially if) no one sees it. Jesus shook things up and called people to a new awareness of God’s mission (prophet); he did so by loving those relegated to the margins, those who are unlovable (servant). His servanthood made him a prophet.

      I hope I didn’t offend with my “oversimplistic” accusation. There are instances in which it is crucial that we be simple–think simply, live simply, love simply. Over-thinking can spoil many of God’s gifts. And yet, on the other hand, one of God’s gifts is the gift of the intellect, which means that exercising it rigorously in service of coming to know God better is one way of enjoying God’s gift to us.

      Thanks for your candor as we’ve discussed these things. I hope I’ve exhibited the same.

      Peace,
      Andrew

  6. Andrew; OK …. back to beginning of our dialogue. Let’s go back to the parable “Salvation for a Demon.” First of all I was curious about the title of the book, The Orthodox Heretic. The title of the book is an obvious play on words and a clever “hook.” No harm there I understand it is a marketing tool.

    Second of all you offered to the reader a gift; something of value to you, something that you were quite excited about and wanted to share with others. You do this by saying “I’ve had the great joy of reading through the parables collected …” You then go one step further and invite the reader to share your most treasured thoughts, intimate reflections of your soul, laying bare a glimpse of the constitution of your soul and the foundation of your most valued core beliefs. … You do this by making a declaration of your believe and conviction by saying “… I read and am shaped by the indespensable language of poetry, story and parable … we cannot do without what is “said” within them. You then go on to profess intense gratitude and awareness in the wake of Christ …” through the language that strikes nearest the full depth the divine will be poetic, metaphorical, and symbolic in nature. ” Cold prose will not suffice.”

    I reversed the order of your analasis, by listing your highest value first. Peter Rollins mirrors to you the nature of your deepest passion. His imagination is like the canvas of a masterpiece that you would succor. It is to you a heady wine, a rich banquet. You drink in the mastery of his skill at crafting words. No mere prose. Rather the author promises delicious dishes served up on platters of untoward heard of deep inner truths. You are enticed by the mystery of exploring. He draws you in. But this is a clever ploy on the writers part. Even the author ( Pete Rollins ) may not be aware of the “other” truth that lies hidden in his parable. I will tell you in a while what that “other” truth is. That other truth is what makes his parable so utterly incredible to me. Yet at this point I have not yet read the parable. Your words have whetted my appetite to dive into the mystery of the parable. I have an open mind. I too seek to explore the mystery of Christ, seek the kingdom at hand, and desire to be “enlightened.” I too am held captive by your words and his.

    Want to know more? I will tell you in the next response. It is Father’s Day, and our children are knocking at the door, so I’ll go for now. As always I ask God’s blessing to be upon you, and I am still Sincerely Seeking to Know the Truth Bonnie R.

    1. You’ve chosen a rather interesting method for commenting once again… Are you trying to strike at a literary method, I wonder?

      So yes, I’ll be curious to see what you’re getting at.

      But I do want to get a quick word in before your next word. And that is that you’ve taken my words a little further than I was taking them–specifically in the direction of my seeming worship at the feet of Peter Rollins’ parables.

      My introduction that you begin to analyze here intends to set the context for how parables might be read and appreciated (and with parables, poetry, etc.) I was only able to write those words because I’ve had the joy of reading so many poems and parables before I ever got to Pete Rollins. And to be honest, his parables are of a different sort than my favorite poems and parables. I can explain that, too, but it might not be necessary.

      What I value about his work is that it doesn’t so much seek to make highly beautiful constructions in language (you’ve made many metaphors about my overwhelming passion and thirst…maybe a little overblown–because it’s more sentimental than I am)…rather, his work seeks to tap into the poetic/parabolic imagination in order that some spiritual/theological truth might be considered. And you’re right to say that we don’t know always know that truth when we begin creating a poem or a parable–that’s the point. But we trust that there might be one there, because we believe God is a creator, a master of imaginative creating, and thus has given his children the gift of being creators as well–and sometimes that means creating with language. (Poetry comes from poiesis…”creation”/”making”.) But we don’t take ourselves so seriously as to think we’ve written the most holy of truth-filled words. Any poet or parable-writer who sees their work that way is likely writing some crappy stuff.

      And furthermore, sometimes, the truth remains buried even after the poem or parable has been read. And I think that’s rather apt, because, as I’ve said before, as soon as we think we’ve got a firm grip on the “TRUTH”, then we might begin heading in some dangerous directions. Truth can only be grasped at, at least for now.

      I’d also encourage you to pick up Rollins’ book. There’s a parable with the same name as the title. Marketing tool? Perhaps… it’s catchy. But there’s a little substance too it, too. But only pick up that book when you’re ready… I worry it will only exacerbate the frustrations evident in parts of this conversation! 🙂

      A happy father’s day to you, as well. I hope you enjoy it.

      Blessings and peace,
      Andrew

  7. Yes! I used the faculties of my imagination to take me to another place in our dialogue. I saw your writing as a “gift.” I wanted to unravel the mystery of this gift ( as seen as a package wrapped in a box with paper.) In order to do this I had to use the faculties of my imagination; since I do not know you, except for what you reveal in your writing. I had to draw upon my own experience as a reader, sometimes a writer, and occasionaly an artist, to explore the gift that was offered.

    I used the method of exageration to get your attention. Would you have paid so close attention to my words if I had not written with such flourish? You see, you already know that we cannot help but project a little something of ourselves through the filter of our own imagination. Yet, you know that my imagination, while it might contain some of the truth, doesn’t contain all of the truth, and in your case while you might have a passion for writing, and an appreciation for good writing, your “gift” that I opened and explored was not the same gift that you thought you had given to me. In every case, each reader of what you ( and Pete Rollins) will have done the same.

    More on the parable later, time is short … chores to do.

  8. Andrew; I want to write a note of clarification here. I want to emphasize that the method of exaggeration that I spoke about was not one meant to diminish any particular style of writing. It was meant to draw a parallel. As an example, think of my words as a painting on canvas. Imagine that the painting is of a vase of flowers. In that vase is a bunch of roses. All the roses are pink, yet one rose in particular seems more lovely to me. To express my delight in the one rose I might paint it a shade or two brighter in order to capture the attention of those who see the painting, otherwise the one beautiful rose might get lost in sea of pink. If I cannot imagine how to draw the attention of the viewer to the one special rose than I have failed to capture my feelings of my delight and the satisfaction that the rose has given me. It is not meant to be a deception; the rose still retains the nature of the rose … the one who sees it does not see it as a carnation …. though a carnation might be that color. The rose is defined not only by the color, for there are many colored roses. The rose is defined by it’s shape, it’s structure, it’s fragrance, the essenence of it’s nature. This is an important point … you will see this more clearly when I try to explain more about the parable.

  9. Ok … now on to the parable. You tell me that the author (Pete Rollins) is seeking to “tap into the poetic/parabolic imagination in order that some spiritual/theological truth might be considered. This is just exactly what I wanted to hear you say. If any of us are going to presume ( and it is a dangerous thing to presume for we had better be sure we are on solid ground and know what we are talking about) that we can construct new parables to teach about the nature of God, of His nature and of His divine will, then we ought to tremble at the feet of the Master. Because now we are not telling fairy tales, we are not creating fables. We are either going to tap into an awesome truth or we are going to perpetuate an awful lie ( heresy).

    Here is the description of the dogmatic parable as given to me in my dictionary …. The parable describes and explains the origin, the growth and spread, the membership, the power and vitalit, the beauty and excellance of the Kingdom of God.

    The parable that Rollins wrote strikes at the very root of my core beliefs. I am a Catholic, and the parable identifies the man as a priest … so naturally I identify in my imagination that this is a Catholic priest and a Catholic cathedral. However even early on Pete Rollins begins by saying that this cathedral was in the center of a once great city … stop.

    In every story even the smallest item, may be of great significance. You see it all the time in any good mystery. The author inserts a seemingly insignificant line or word or passage in a story. The reader hardly notices and may not ever notice it untill a second look or a second reading.

    Further Rollins goes on to say that it was a “magnificent” cathedral and that the cathedral was known through out the land because of the priests tireless work and piety. He was “pure” because no one was turned away. All were recieved in the name of Christ. There was no limit ( giving without prejudice or restraint) No one could steal from this old man, for no possession was considered to be his own.

    Well, that is quite interesting to me. In the first place the Cathederal was not his to give away. The cathederal belonged to the people of God. The people of God are the members of the Body of Christ. So however much the old priest prayed he failed to get the message that by allowing the church to be pillaged and the sanctuary defiled; he too was committing a violation against God’s law. He presumed that he was even more holy than God’s own law. The “holy” priest was stealing from the people of God. The “holy” priest was stealing from the Body of Christ. The “holy” priest made the judgment that the physical needs …. bought by money that was earned from the sale of “items pillaged from the sanctuary” he “did not grow concerned” about the sacrilege. The “holy” priest presumes that he has “put on the mind of Christ” and that Christ would not be offended. I would even go so far to say that in some ways this priest was also guilty of the sin of sacrilige because he is both “passive” and “active” in their sin. He does not try to stop the thieves and he does not even try to enlighten them by showing them that the “ends do no justify the means.” Sanctification does not come about by doing ill deeds. Jesus came to deliver us from evil, to conquer sin, to save us. That was his mission. This priest appears to put the corporal works of mercy even above the spiritual. If we are fed and our stomachs are satisfied … are we then saved?

    This is only a small part of my disagreement with the parable. I consider the parable a failure on many levels. If you want to hear more than I will tell you, but if you consider my answer too “conventional … too boring … too institutional” than I won’t go on. Let me know what you think.

    I am still sincerely seeking the truth …. Bonnie R.

  10. It occurs to me … actually there might be more than you and I engaged in this dialogue. So though you may not want to continue in this conversation, perhaps someone else might like me to go on.

    Back to the analogy of the painting on canvas. The artist wants to paint a picture of the vase of flowers, a bunch of roses. He titles the work “Daisies”. Well obviously the viewer of such a piece is thrown off by this title. Where are the daisies? There are no daisies. The viewer might even be lucky enough to have a chance to encounter the artist and ask him: “Why do you call this piece daisies when obviously this is not a picture of daisies.” The artist replies; “Because that is how I see the roses – as daisies.” The viewer knows this is nonsense. A daisy is not and cannot ever be a rose.

    It is much like the story of the Emperor without clothes. He allows his imagination to overcome his rational mind. He disbelieves what is really before his eyes …. a naked body and prefers to see himself fully clothed in magnificent garments instead. He is decieved. Our imaginations can decieve us.. If we want something to be true; we can imagine that it is true without any reasoned basis.

    I think and I have observed that imaginations can be like children. They have to be discipled or else they can run amuck, as indeed all undisciplined children do cause a lot of trouble both to themselves and others around them. Children are the most creative creatures; but they have to be guided by an adult with good sound thinking.

    Which leads into my other point. Our brains have to work in harmony. There must be balance.

    To the reader of this comment; God’s blessing be with you today.

  11. Bonnie, my apologies for my recent silence. I’ve been transitioning into a short vacation time. But it’s not been as restful as I’d like because I remain swamped with a few different projects that have consumed much of my mental space. Anyway, I didn’t want to respond when I wasn’t prepared.

    To be honest, though, I’m not sure how prepared I even am now. You raise many points in your posts since my last post. Many of them are interesting. But I honestly still feel like we’re having two different conversations. One point where I saw this again was in your reference to “dogmatic parables”. I understand that you used that word most likely in response to my notion of “striking at some truth”, but I don’t think that qualifies it as a dogmatic parable, because dogmatic parables seem more interested in getting to a place where we have a firm grip on the truth. Again–the riddle idea (the absolute truth is in there somewhere–we just have to find it!). To approach the parable with this mindset is to miss much of what it has to offer.

    Bonnie, I’ve tried as well as I’m able with the time that I currently have to help explain this, but I really think we’re just on two different wavelengths–in a few different ways: how we understand “truth”, the role of the “church”, what “poetic/parabolic” really means, what “scripture” is, and many other things. It’s OK that we have different understandings, but I don’t know if I have the ability to communicate my perspective to you any more effectively than I have, which maybe hasn’t been very effective. For instance, all of your metaphors and analogies about artistic expression are seriously lacking to me. What I think it comes down to is that you see imagination, metaphor, beautiful language, etc. as embellishment, as the ornate artifice that artfully hides the really important stuff. But as I see it, it’s not so much that metaphor and imagination hide the truth, and so invite us in with their stunning beauty, but rather that the beauty, the metaphor, the imagination, is the very vessel, the very means by which we reach that truth. And when we reach it, it ever eludes us–we cannot grasp it fully. Mystery. If we mistake our notion of God for God himself, we’re guilty of idolatry.

    I agree, though, that the intellect and rational faculties work in tandem with imagination. But we can’t not use our imaginations. Whenever we speak of God, we use our imaginations. (When I say this, I get the sense that you get frustrated, because it seems you think I’m suggesting that we merely “make God up” or fantasize him into existence. If this is how you’re reacting, you’re continuing to miss the point I’m trying to make).

    You’re welcome to comment again, but I think I need to wrap this conversation up for now…at least on my part. And because this post is so far back on our blog, I’m not sure how many people you can expect to read our comments here.

    I’ll finish with one more thought. We are all guilty of this at times, and for it, we ought to repent. But one of the reasons I feel it’s been difficult to continue with this conversation (and especially looking back at the tone that you used to initiate this conversation) is because of a certain militant posture you’re employing through your words. (“I found your ‘parable’ quite disgusting and heretical.”) If our offendedness is provoked by something like the parable we’ve posted, by doctrinal points, etc, then I would venture that our sense of what is offensive is out of whack. I realize what I’m saying right here might not get through to you as I intend for it to, but I just want to say one last time that if we–as human beings intended for community and love–cannot learn to begin our conversations (and sustain them) more generously, not thinking we’ve got the ANSWER from the very get-go, then all is lost. The world rests on the possibility of candor. We are the hands and feet of God; if we so battle each other from the start, then we’re harming the “body”.

    Please hear me for what I’m saying, that it’s crucial that we try to stand in another’s shoes before condemning. To echo the common refrain here, imagination allows us to do just that–to stand in another’s shoes, and to proceed with hospitality–the sort of radical hospitality that the priest exhibits. This sort of hospitality shouldn’t be so surprising, as Christians are the ones called to love their enemies.

    Thanks for the conversation. I know it’s been a help to me at moments, especially in trying to better articulate my point of view. I hope it has been for you. Blessings on the journey. And blessings on your continued search for truth. I promise no hard feelings. And even through frustrations, know that I consider you a sister in Christ.

    with peace,
    Andrew

  12. Andrew, I want to thank you for your complete honesty, and for addressing my concerns one more time. I am in agreement with you in that we really need to wrap this up. My frustration is as great as yours that we could not reach a better understanding in our dialogue. I just want to say God bless you for all that you do for the poor of this world. I respect you for your dedication to easing the burden of our fellow citizens and brothers and sisters who are in dire need in our community. Most of my questions have been answered; though not as I would have liked, we both have done the best we could. Let all of us continue to go forth in our quest for the truth. I say to my children often: Seek always to know the truth and you will find the truth; for the Truth is always seeking you. ( Christ is the Life, the Way and the Truth). Peace to you as well. I am Sincerely … Bonnie R.

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