Tell Me More than a Story

 In Culture, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, People, Teaching, Theology

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.

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  • Avatar
    Bob Andringa
    Reply

    Happy New Year, Fred. I enjoy your musings and pray that the Lord will bless your richly beyond measure in 2016.
    Sue and I are doing well, just reached the beginning of the fourth quarter in age, and grateful to the Lord for more than we deserve.

  • Avatar
    Jennifer Mathis
    Reply

    Happy New Year, Fred, Melea and everyone at The Gathering! May 2016 be beautiful and bright for you. Come visit us at SpiritHorse Ranch next chance you get.

  • Avatar
    andrew jones
    Reply

    Another interesting duet is when anchorite St Anthony heard about another Christian hermit apparently more spiritual than he and sought him out – St Paul of Thebes. The two recluses became good friends and greatly enriched our monastic heritage. Happy New Years to you Fred.

  • Avatar
    Todd P
    Reply

    Fred – great thoughts and early happy 2016!

    I love the contrast created by Colossians and Luke and it reminds me of Ken Gire’s “Moments with the Savior” where he discusses: the Light of the World squinting as It passes through the birth canal, the Divine Word uttering unintelligible sounds as The Babe, and the Hands that carved the mountain ranges gripping a mother’s pinky!

    Amazing to think our Savior chose in His Divinity to take on the flesh of humanity! Humbling thought for sure so we offer Him all we have an are as this new year gets started!

    With you friend!
    TP

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    Mark Neuenschwander
    Reply

    Brilliant.

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    Nan Moore
    Reply

    Beautiful.

  • Avatar
    Russ Johnson
    Reply

    I am late in indicating my appreciation for this most timely and insightful word to the contemporary church at large, especially those prone to public writing as a means of promoting Christian Spiritual maturity.

    A helpful word to any who care about doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.

    Russ Johnson

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