Tell Me More than a Story
Last year, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga released “Cheek to Cheek,” their album of jazz duets. Bennett’s controlled, classy (always a coat and tie) appearance matched with Lady Gaga’s ever-changing and audacious persona would seem to be a formula for failure, but it worked beautifully. Bennett later remarked that the key to a good duet is contrast along with quality material and voices that complement each other. As well, they had developed a friendship two years before that led them to want to work together on the project. It was a stretch, but two soloists found complementary partners to create a best-selling album.
For some reason, listening to their music made me wonder if there were individuals in Scripture who would have been good collaborators. There would need to be enough contrast in their voices to come up with surprising, quality material, and it would be good if they had a relationship beforehand. A number of combinations come to mind, but the relationship that would seem the most obvious is Paul and Luke—two deeply committed friends who travelled together for years. Both are prolific writers with broad audiences. As well, their styles (and probably personalities) could not be more different. In today’s culture, Luke and Paul might be similar to Donald Miller and John Piper.
Luke is the storyteller who organizes his material around a clear narrative with a beginning, middle and end. He enjoys colorful detail and the human interest. He loves using parables, encounters with friends and enemies alike, and the plot line of the life of Jesus. On the other hand, Paul, the theologian, sets the doctrinal course of the Church. Yes, there are people in his writing, but often they are either mentioned in the greetings at the end of the letter or because Paul is working through a conflict with them. His primary concern is with the content of his letters, leaving little time for stories. Paul is logical, organized and sometimes passionate and protective, but his focus is always on making his argument.
How is it that the two men who knew each other as well as they did and who went through such trials together never thought about doing something collaborative? It’s hard to believe that the two—after years of work and writing—would not share what they were doing. Did they both sit at their separate writing tables and never confer or exchange advice?
“Luke, what do you think of this letter I’ve written to the believers in Corinth? Do you think the part on love could use a little tightening up?”
“Should I go a little easier on the false teachers at Galatia or just leave it the way it is?”
I could imagine a motivated event promoter working with them to perform “An Evening With Paul and Luke: Parables and Proclamation” in towns around the Mediterranean. Luke could open with some stories, and then Paul could follow with 30 minutes of intense teaching. Back and forth they could go, and the combination would be magic. Who knows? Maybe they did work together at some point and we just don’t know about it. There could not have been a more interesting, complementary duet than Luke and Paul.
In the last several years there has been a movement in the evangelical world to find the “narrative” not only in Scripture but in our own lives to understand the story we are each living. In that sense, Luke has the advantage over Paul. People love stories. Our brains love stories and a well-crafted one actually increases our brain’s levels of oxytocin and makes us more compassionate, generous and trustworthy. Oxytocin is sometimes called our “moral molecule” because when the brain synthesizes oxytocin, we are — for the moment — better people.
I don’t know what the neuroscience of straight doctrinal teaching is, but I suspect it doesn’t give the same measurable levels of pleasure. However, story alone is not enough. Story needs truth.
I thought about this all again Christmas morning when our family tradition is to read Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. What if we made a duet out of it and read Colossians and Luke together? What if we combined the power of the story and the cosmic perspective of Paul? Two great friends with contrasting voices and the highest quality content. So, that’s what we did and, while it was a Scriptural “mash up” of sorts, I think Paul and Luke together get it just right because, while different, they each bring their best.
The baby wrapped in blankets in the manger and the firstborn over all creation. The family looking for shelter and the one by whom and for whom everything has been made. The infant and the one towering far above everything and everyone. The vulnerable child and the one through whom all things hold together. That’s the magic of the right kind of contrast, quality and, above all, two voices blended perfectly.