Epistle of the Elder of Omaha
The reading at Morning Prayer this week begins with the long speech of Stephen from the Book of Acts. Whenever I have encountered it in the past, I admit to being puzzled. How in the world could a defendant suppose that such an incredibly long closing argument could win the day. “Let me tell you the history of our people.” Was he stalling for time? If you go to critical commentaries on the Book of Acts, they will, for the most part, give you a wink and say well it was not Stephen, but the author of the Book of Acts who created such a lengthy speech. But it occurred to me for the first time, perhaps because of this blog! that it was a particularly apt defense. What Steven is charged with, much like Jesus at this trial, was a violation of the law. The law says you cannot speak of God in a familiar sense, making yourself or anyone God’s partner, son. Behind this charge is the concept that revelation is given in ideas, precepts and/or laws. Stephen’s argument rests on the claim that the revelation, which is called Torah, is actually a narrative, a story that begins with the call of Abraham out of Ur of Chaldees. Followers of this blog while recognize that Stephen’s interpretation of revelation coincides with the theme of this blog.
This is particularly appropriate to the publication of the label, “Jesus and the Meta Narrative” this week, for it sets out the proposal that Jesus must be liberated from being the object of doctrine and/or myth by means of making him again the subject a narrative. This recognizes that a tradition that was strangling from its own self codification, suddenly was broke open by its confrontation with Jesus, launching a vast and varied narrative effort, which, I should think, includes not only Gospel writers and the epistlists, but early Rabbinists as well. More by ways of re-imagining Jesus will follow under this label and hopefully some strenuous debate as well!
My reading this week has centered on Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko. It is a narrative that begins in Gohyang Korea in 1910 and traces the journey of Korean family through their migration to Osaka, Japan in 1933 to joining the Korean minority which continues in to live in Japan to this day. We see through the eyes of these characters the history of depression and war which we think we know, but, in fact, know in part, through a glass darkly. As Min Jin Lee says at the beginning of her book “History has failed ordinary people.” Her narrative is giving ordinary people a selfhood that history must reckon with or not continue to be history, but myth.
I find it especially interesting to step out of western narratives, into these innovative eastern narratives, where the novel tradition is rather young. Min Jin Lee’s novel is preceded in my reading list by Madeleine Thien, Do Not say We have Nothing, Xue Yiwei, Dr Bethuhen’s Children, Mo Yan, Red Sorghum and China’s foundational novel, The Dream of the Red Chamber. In these narrative threads, we find an individuals moving though space and time defying fate and determinism in the quest of a free future. This strikes me as the romantic invention of the lyric and novel narrative, hence the label in this blog “Romanticism and the Recovery of Narrative.” Perhaps it would be better to call this their re-discovery, because they seem to fit into the Meta Narrative, began a long time ago with the words: “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country. . .’”
In this coming week there should be a post in the label on Romanticism on the poetics of the German poet, Hölderlin and the promised discussion of Psalm 2.