Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Peter Rollins and his parables

Join us this Thursday, 7/15 @ 6:30pm at Gino's East Pizza in downtown Wheaton for more Rollin's parable discussion! Also, if you might be interested in an up/rooted lunchtime downtown loop meeting time, let us know! We're getting ready to launch a virtual cohort discussion group as well!


Last month, we began a discussion on Peter Rollin's book “The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales”. We selected three parables for discussion from the first section “Beyond Belief”: Chapter 3) Translating the Word; Chapter 4) Turning the Other Cheek, and Chapter 9) The Invisible Prophet.

The first parable, Translating the Word, recounts a woman who was commissioned by God to dedicate her life to the distribution and translation of the Word of God. To achieve this she sells all she owned and spends years of her life living on the streets begging for money and working odd jobs so that she can afford a printing press and qualified translators. One disaster after another happens and each time she gives away all the funds she collected to aid in the needs of people here and now. At the end of her life she is able to get the funds, hire the translators, and print Bibles. The parable ends saying she appeared to have fulfilled her commission not once, but many times.

Our discussion opened with a question, “Did she feel a failure until the very end?” She willingly gave away the funds to help those in need, but this put her further away from the “goal” of a printed translated text. From there we asked, “Did she ever feel a success?” For some present it was a feeling granted at the completion of the first printed text, for others it was a feeling she never received for there are always more who could receive. It was here our discussion was moved by greater attention to the text. She was called to spend her life on this task. It was not something God asked her to finish quickly so that she could do something else later. I will leave you with a question we did not get to ask, “Is this a lifestyle that God calls some towards, or is this lifestyle Christianity itself?”

The second parable we read, Turning the Other Cheek, was a recounting of Matthew 5. Our reading of this retelling had Jesus dividing the hearers into two groups – the oppressed and the oppressors. To one group he said carry the pack a second mile and to the other he said my witness to you is those who carry for you. To one group he said do not resist evil men but pray for their salvation, to the other he said, those to whom you do evil and they only respond with righteous love are my witness unto you.

The text in this format is bracing. Our discussion quickly took these sayings as defining groups who are powerful and who are powerless. We began by looking to place ourselves within the narrative. We realized through our discussion that we do not fit nicely into either category. Living within the richest county in the state we ought to remember our place as the oppressors, but we also give of ourselves in service to others. Thus sometimes we waffle back and forth between the two. Another of us held some problem with the categories, it is not the oppressed who choose of their own will to carry for a second mile but the free. The one who chooses to be a servant may be exploited, but their choice empowers them to be less than oppressed. As a group, however, we worried a bit over legislating freedom for the oppressed from our comfortable chairs surrounded by an abundance of food. What do you think?

The final parable we read, The Invisible Prophet, was about a prophet whose message was rendered void by the Adversary for it chose to make her beautiful beyond measure. She inspired the painters to paint, the poets to muse, and the crowds to assemble, but they heard nothing of her message for the words were so marvelous to behold. She died a popular star, but not one had listened to her call of repentance.

We began this discussion with an aside on modern worship practices. One of us shared a remark about a church where they had compelling teaching, reverent reflection upon God's grace, and the best Jesus show in town. The final element of the list being amongst the most planned out. We asked what this means for our understanding of worship that so much focus goes into the entertaining aspects? An awkward silence followed. From there one of us asked if this prophet might be creation itself? We are all so accustomed to the splendor of creation that we don't see it as a prophetic witness to God's goodness. We all too often ignore it. Another asked if this prophet was not the Bible itself, for all the beauty of its poetry or the romance of God's love we hear not the calls to justice – its voice condemning our sin. From here we also asked about what great beauty is hidden within the ugliness of the cross of Christ. What do you think, are we so distracted by beauty that even its absence drives us to distraction?


Pat Riehecky

Brief me-ness: When the season is right, I am a graduate theology student at Wheaton College; when it is not, I am a UNIX Administrator. My perspective is informed by the writings of Kierkegaard, Tillich, and Levinas as well as lectures from Daniel Block, Douglas Moo, Daniel Treier, and Kevin VanHooser. I have known the name that is above any other since I could talk, but it took me some time to accept His guidance. The theological questions that haunt me revolve around the meaning of Christianity, the theology of a name, and retelling the Bible as the story of God's romantic passionate love for His creation. In short, I guess you could say I am interested in a counter narrative of grace stretching from Genesis to Revelation.

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