Red Tent

I've recently been reading Red Tent, a novel by Anita Diamant that retells the events of Jacob and his wives from the perspective of Dinah, the daughter of Leah. The story is well-written, and I generally enjoy reading it, especially as it tries to recreate the "feeling" of the biblical world by filling in the gaps of the biblical narrative. But as I read the story I am struck by how little of this "feeling" the Bible attempts to convey, and how foreign its literary form and concerns are from that of the modern novel, which Red Tent is a great example of. Next to the richness of detail and emotion recorded in Red Tent, Genesis seems sparse and empty. But somehow, the biblical story also carries a great deal more weight than the modern story. Yes, we ought to read the Bible as "literature," but we have to read it on its own terms...it is not just a story, but its own kind of story.

I'm also struck by how little concerned with history the biblical story is. Where Red Tent is constantly filling in the details of the story of Jacob's marriages and providing plausible motivations for why things happened the way they did, Genesis is not much concerned with this at all, but rather shows only those actions and details which are absolutely essential to its story. So, biblical narrative is not like modern literature or modern history, but something else entirely, it seems--with its own questions and concerns.


Baseball as story

I've become more and more convinced over the last year or so that the reason sports are so popular in our culture is that they provide the same kind of epic stories for us that literature once did. Though literature is still a powerful cultural force, there is rarely a single story or novel that has universal currency, and when there is, it's usually something of the Da Vinci Code/Left Behind/Harry Potter variety--that is, more entertainment than actually epic. But on the other hand, American sports have achieved an almost mythic quality--when I think of Michael Jordan or Albert Pujols, I don't really think of a person like me, but rather of a heroic character.

What provoked this post on sports and story was the ending of the St. Louis Cardinals' season last night--the narrative of their team in 2005 (a topic which deserves a seperate post when I can manage it) finally drawing to a close in a loss to the Houston Astros. As it became more and more clear that the game would likely end in a loss for St. Louis and signal the end of the season, I found myself turning down the volume of the TV and turning up the radio broadcast on KMOX. Though the action on the TV lagged about a half-second behind the description on the radio, I still found watching the game this way far more satisfying than listening to the national Fox announcers. I think the reason for this is that the radio is the primary way I follow the Cardinals during the year--since Ami and I don't have cable, I can only watch the games on the weekend, whereas most nights, I'll listen to at least part of the game on the radio. Because of this, my connection with the Cardinal narrative is not just with the Cardinals in and of themselves as they lose and win games in various ways, but it is with the narrative of the Cardinals as told by Mike Shannon. That is, I don't just love Cardinals as a thing to watch or "follow" in some kind of "objective" way, I love the story of the Cardinals as described by Mike Shannon--and there was no way I was going to allow the final chapter of the story to be told by Bob Brenly.

It's for this reason, I think, that I haven't really been sad the last two seasons even though the Cardinals narrowly missed winning the World Series both years--because it's not all about winning the ring, it's about the season being a good story, full of characters and plot and tension--everything that makes a good story a good story. This explains why people are such fervent fans of bad teams--teams like the Royals or Cubs that haven't won in generations--because they love the stories of their teams, and the potential of a new story every spring. And the best thing about baseball, as opposed to other sports, is that the story is so long, rich and deep. The baseball season lasts longer every year, and baseball history stretches far further into the past than any other American sport, meaning that the storylines developed every year have the oppertunity to expand and change, and every year's story is always held against the layered context of the story of the game itself.


On narrative

This semester, the topic of study that most interests me is an independent study on Old Testament narrative that I am doing with a professor here at Covenant named Ken Harris. Basically, the question I am trying to answer is this: How did OT narratives work in their original context, and what were they intended to do in the communities they shaped? To that end I've read Wenham's Story as Torah, and Robert Alter's Art of Biblical Narrative in the last couple of weeks.

Broadly speaking (beyond just this semester's study), I am interested in how all of our lives seem to be shaped by narrative: written, heard, seen, spoken, enacted, created. I think that what we believe as humans, or our basic "world-view" can (at least in one sense among others) be defined as which story's authority we place ourselves under--an idea I stole from N.T. Wright's NTPG. Now obviously, all people believe something, and have some kind of "world-view," and so, if my thesis is right, are always placing themselves under the authority of some story. What I am interested in as a Christian is how I might be intentional about placing myself and encouraging others to place themselves under the authority of the Christian story in all its dimensions (including, but not limited to, the story of Scripture). My interest in these topics sprang originally out from pragmatic reasons--I was teaching English literature to a group of high-school students and trying to justify in my head and consequently to them why they should bother with reading and understanding stories in the first place. Because I came into the topic from that perspective, I was unaware of the amount of material that had been written on it and how in vogue this whole idea of "story" has become. Since I am just now beginning to wade through all that material, I feel like a real novice, but I at least I am beginning to realize how complex the issue is, which is likely the first step towards thinking rightly about it. I also feel like there has yet to be a real direct and practical application of all these "narrative" insights to Christian teaching and thinking--what difference does all this make for Christian spirituality? That's the question I hope I can come to some sort of conclusion to, at least for myself, if no one else.


Don't call it a comeback

After spending about a year at upsaid.com I realized I could get more features back at blogspot for free instead of spending $25 a year. This will primarily be a place to post thoughts I'm have about the theological study I'm undertaking at Covenant Seminary and photos of my 10-week old son. Nothing too exciting, just something that will hopefully help me write more regularly.

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