Monday, January 30, 2017

The parable of the Good Samaritan vs the fable of The Snake

Vincent van Gogh's The Good Samaritan

It is hard to not respond to every outrage that we are experiencing now in the United States, but it seems that Ezra Klein may have found a way to explain why the current U.S. president does some of the things that he does. See Klein's article/post: "Donald Trump’s favorite story perfectly describes his first 10 days in office."

The fable of The Snake is about a "tender-hearted woman" who finds a wounded snake on the road. She takes it home and nurses it back to health, but when the snake recovers, it bites her. As the woman is dying from the bite, she asks the snake why it had bit her after all she had done for it. The snake replies, "You knew full well I was a snake before you helped me."
Trump used that fable during the campaign to speak of Syrian refugees. His recent executive order--signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day--banning refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries, is another reminder that Trump operates from the perspective of that fable.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan after a lawyer “tested” Jesus by asking what the lawyer had to do to inherit eternal life. The lawyer already knew the answer when Jesus asked him what the law had to say: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” After the lawyer gave that answer, Jesus responded by saying: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live” (10:25–28).

The lawyer then asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” (10:29), and Jesus replied with a parable that describes the extraordinary actions of a man, a hated Samaritan, who assisted another human being in need, a man half dead by the side of the road who had already been ignored by two religious people who had “passed by on the other side.” The Samaritan, in contrast, had compassion for the man, demonstrated that compassion in concrete ways, and “took care of him” (10:34).

As always, Jesus expects a response from his audience concerning his parables, a response that involves both understanding and action, because Luke tells us this is what happened after Jesus finished the parable:
[Jesus asked,] “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” [The expert in the law] said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (10:36–37)
The current president of the United States has replaced the parable of the Good Samaritan with the fable of The Snake.

I'll stick with Jesus's story as a much better guide for how to live one's life.

H/T to Rita, who recommended that I write about The Snake fable on this blog.

P.S. Per the reference to Holocaust Remembrance Day in the third paragraph above, please see the powerful twitter account I screen grabbed here:

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Rich Man and Lazarus (part 21): John Gower (1327/30-1408)

John Gowler, er, Gower

Just eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity (according to Oxfam). In that light, this series on the reception of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus continues. It's relevance is enduring. Some of the other posts before and after this one will address that point more fully (e.g., Theophylact, Frederick Douglass, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the peasants of Solentiname, etc.).

John Gower was a medieval poet whose fame and influence during his lifetime rivaled his friend and contemporary, Geoffrey Chaucer. Until the 17th century, Gower was considered to be as influential as Chaucer.

I wrote about Gower a couple years ago on this blog, but here is a brief refresher before I get to his Rich Man and Lazarus interpretation.

Gower was most likely born in Kent or Yorkshire into an affluent and prominent family. Records indicate that he bought an estate in Kent and acquired a manor in Suffolk (other properties would follow), so he was certainly economically prosperous. Around 1377, Gower began to life in St. Mary Overery's Priory, and he is often credited for financing the repair and restoration of the damaged priory. He was buried in the church of the priory—in now what is called Southwark Cathedral, London—and the inscription notes that he has been called “the first English poet.”

Gower wrote a number of works, but is best known for three extended poems, all of which explore the responsibility of human beings within society: Mirroir de l’Omme (“Mirror of Man”) was written in French during 1376-79 (Gower later changed the name of this work twice, first to Speculum Hominis and then to Speculum Meditantis), Vox Clamantis, (“The Voice of One Crying Out”), was written in Latin during 1377-1381, and Confessio Amantis (“The Lover’s Confession”) in 1390 and dedicated it to King Richard and to Chaucer (The work was revised both in 1391 and 1393; e.g., a dedication to King Henry was added, and the previous praise of King Richard was deleted, as were the dedications to Henry and Chaucer), so it exists in three recensions/versions. 

Confessio Amantis, containing over 33,000 lines, is an allegory based on the Christian sacrament of confession. After the Prologue, each of the seven books focuses on one of the Seven Deadly Sins, which are illustrated with a treasury of stories from different historical periods. The stories, which are supposed to illustrate moral behavior antithetical to the seven deadly sins, often describe the immoral behaviors associated with those sins. The eighth book includes a description of the duties of the king and a prayer for England.

The sixth book of Confessio Amantis treats the deadly sin of gluttony, and the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is one of the stories used to illustrate it (6.975-1150). This book is the shortest of the eight books; despite the numerous subtopics that could be covered, the text focuses on two main ones: Drunkenness and Delicacy (i.e., an immoderate attachment to sensual pleasure, especially that connected to the love of excessively fine or exotic food).

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Life as a Parable: In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rep. John Lewis

“For action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing” -- Gerrard Winstanley, “A Watch-Word to the City of London and the Armie” (1649)

Dr. King is in the center; Rep. John Lewis is on the right

As the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote: "John Lewis is an American hero who has changed this country for the better with courage, sacrifice, and a lifelong commitment to justice."

Rep. Lewis being beaten in Selma, AL

"While still a young man, John Lewis became a nationally recognized leader. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963." 

"As a student at Fisk University, John Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.  In 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Lewis risked his life on those Rides many times by simply sitting in seats reserved for white patrons.  He was also beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South."

Before the redistricting of our congressional district, John Lewis was our representative, a fact that made me extremely proud.

Parables do not have to be fictional or made-up or a fable of some sort; an exemplary life can serve as a parable for us all.
Some parables are relatively simple and straightforward. “Go and do likewise,” says Jesus after he tells the parable of the good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke (10:25–37): the command makes the parable easier to understand, perhaps, but more difficult to put into practice.
. . . .
As I read Jesus’s parables and the divergent ways in which various people have responded to them, I am reminded of the August 23, 1799, letter of William Blake to Rev. Dr. Trusler after Trusler had complained about one of Blake’s works of art that Blake had sent to him (see the introduction for details). Blake compares his own Visions of Eternity to, for example, the parables and fables of Aesop and argues: “The wisest of the Ancients considerd what is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction because it rouzes the faculties to act. I name Moses Solomon Esop Homer Plato.”
. . . .But the parables of Jesus go further than just “rouz[ing] the faculties to act”: they also challenge us to act in other ways, to change our priorities, not just our perspectives; to change our behaviors, not just our attitudes (David B. Gowler, The Parables After Jesus, pp. xi-xii).

Rep. John Lewis, like Dr. King before him, is a person who puts the message of Jesus into practice as much as anyone else I can think of.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” After the lawyer gave that answer, Jesus responded by saying: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:25–28).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

My advance copy of The Parables after Jesus arrived!

Plus I got my biannual haircut.

With many thanks and great appreciation--re the book, not the haircut--for the fantastic people and work of Baker Academic. The entire editorial, production, and publication process was outstanding, beginning with James Ernest (now at Eerdmans), Bryan Dyer, Eric Salo, Rachel Klompmacher, and many others. 

I am extremely grateful for your work; it paid off immensely!

Monday, January 2, 2017

An excerpt from The Parables After Jesus

I was delighted to see that Baker Academic published an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Parables After Jesus, on their website. It includes the first 34 pages of the book. You can find it on their website, or you can download it on my page.

And congratulations also to Camden Gowler on his 26th birthday today. Here's a picture from last year (we actually didn't leave the house looking like that):

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman   Howard Thurman’s poem, “The Work of Christmas” is my favorite Christmas poem, and I p...