Parables have been on my mind recently. It may or may not have to do with an event I went to last week by Pete Rollins, but I will let you decide that for yourself. Dr. Pete Rollins is a provocative philosopher/theologian/author who I think has reminded many of us how unique parables truly are.
In fact, I think it is fair to say that most people enjoy them. Parables have the ability to disarm us, humor us, and challenge us all in the same fell swoop.
Parable, which is the greek translation of what in Hebrew is called mashal, are rather quite disruptive if we let them be what they are. Parables are, to me, like grenades. Parables have their pin pulled and dropped in the middle of a conversation and there is no clue how it might go with those who hear it.
I think that dynamic is exactly what makes parables exciting to me. Parables are fables, morality tales, and small scale stages for large scale ideas. In many ways, parables are kind of like the Rorschach ink blot tests, the thing that stands out to you first or the themes that arise for you are related to what you bring to the parable from your own life experiences.
You see, in this sense, there is not one flat meaning to parables. Yes, they are often designed or written to convey an idea or share subversive content, but parables are meant to be things that start conversations rather than end them.
Imagine a jail, if you will. A prison that holds people within them and they have no opportunity how to get out.
Parables are like explosions that blast open the side of a wall that was originally keeping us confined. In this perspective, parables smash myths or assumptions that have ceased to bring us fulfillment, liberation, vitality, dynamism, et cetera.
If I may be honest, I have since found this definition of parables to be quite engaging. More than that, I have begun to see the Christian faith as an open ended parable that has blown out the wall of our confines, challenged us with a far larger world, and now it is an open ended adventure. You might even say that Christianity rolls away the stone that kept us in a dark and lamentable place.
Every so often it is good for us to have our perspectives completely challenged. Dare I say, it is even healthy for us.
In the past week I have met a fair number of people who are absolutely deadset that their opinion is the only right one in the room. I had to ask myself, “How do I keep getting into these situations?”
Unfortunately, each of us has an ego that can become quite addicted to being separate and superior. We each have the capacity to live life with “ferocity and certainty” rather than “fear and trembling.” “Ferocity and certainty” are seen as admirable and to be sought after as ideals, but the New Testament encourages us to live our lives with “fear and trembling.” Through reverence and plausible uncertainty, we perhaps need to learn to tread lightly on topics that we think we know so well.
back to parables.
It was by no slight chance that I said above how parables can “disarm us, humor us, and challenge us.” This is because we often become defensive, serious and unmoving in our opinions of the world, of society, of values, of faith and doubt, of patriotism, of love, of God. The list goes on.
But parables blow the walls out. They remind us by showing us rather bluntly that there is a far larger world out there to be encountered, mystified by and romanced through. Perhaps it would be better for each of us to view the faith as a parable that invites us into a conversation that was begun long before us and will continue long after us. The best reflections on life and faith and doubt and love and God were always done in conversation.
And so may you allow yourself to be disarmed, humored, and challenged by the authentic Christ of all of us and find that it is better to live life reverently and with a healthy amount of uncertainty.