catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 6 :: 2010.03.19 — 2010.04.01


Verdict and revelation will always be popular

A bundle of chapters partially titled Telling the Truth really got me thinking.  If the story of Cinderella still awakens a longing within me, and if my own story of “he sought me out, we shared a milkshake, we kissed on New Year’s Eve” didn’t end as a fairy tale, but instead as a heartbreak that stung even after a dozen years, maybe Frederick Buechner was right.  A happily-ever-after finale, a transformation energized by true love, a prince in pauper’s clothes, a “Just You Wait, ’enry ’iggins” kind of invocation of Fortune’s reversal — these are the plot elements that will unfold.  They will unfold in a universal way for all creation, and in a particular way for every human.  We can believe in the truth of this even while we each suffer under the grim reality that our lives, so far, aren’t turning out like the movies.

The no-words-for-it silence when the deadly damage is done, the eruption of incredulous laughter upon a ridiculous turn of events, the elation at a resolution that most surprisingly and artfully untangles the impossible snarl of human conflict: Buechner says these are the tragedy, comedy and fairy-tale elements of the cosmic plot called the gospel of Jesus Christ, and ever since I read that short little book, I see that gospel winking at me as it squats, generally unnoticed, in the midst of countless popular stories told through books, scripts and screenplays. 

The kingdom of God is like that time when Mrs. Doubtfire could keep himself disguised no longer.  The audacity, the awkwardness, the affection of his undercover housekeeping has something to do with the gospel for sure.  And when Mrs. Doubtfire’s wife, with newly opened eyes, calls out her husband’s name a half dozen times, each time with a different emotion, I imagine this as a forecast of the general reaction when Immanuel, who has all this time been among us, gains our full recognition. 

The kingdom of God is like every satisfying comic episode about the coward, the klutz — that clueless object of everyone’s ridicule who trips over the truth while the mystery stumps the rest of the gang.  It takes an imaginative eye to notice, but Scooby Doo and Shaggy, Twain’s Puddn’head Wilson, Inspector Clouseau and Shakespeare’s Constable Dogberry are just the type of folks who first stumble their way into the kingdom of God and his righteousness. 

The kingdom of God is like the day when “High Prairie’s jaw dropped in astonishment” at the lunch box auction. So Big’s Pervus DeJong has much to teach us about that whole business of God’s purpose in choosing this and taking a pass on that.  “One dollar!” is his extravagant opening bid for Selina’s snacksize parcel of food, after he had remained impassive during the bidding for Widow Paarlenberg’s overflowing basket. Novelist Edna Ferber gets it so that we can also get it while Max the auctioneer is getting it: 

The term ‘crowd psychology’ was unknown to him, but he was artist enough to sense that some curious magic process, working through this roomful of people, had transformed the little white box, from a thing despised and ridiculed, into an object of beauty, of value, of infinite desirability.  He now eyed it in a catalepsy of admiration.

Some curious magic process.  Charlotte worked it on her web in the words “Some Pig.”  Rebecca’s Maxim de Winter worked it when he foiled the socialite snob who was trying to exclude her shy companion:  “I am afraid I must contradict you.  You are both having coffee with me.” Hip-hop king Dr. Dre worked it when he backed the music of some white kid named Marshall Mathers.  Cinderella’s prince worked it when he asked the step-mother, “Do you have another daughter?” 

This curious process of magic called the gospel loves getting mixed up with whatever happens to be currently labeled as the wrong crowd.  When we get excited about uncovering its movement within pop culture’s favorite stories, the Holy Spirit will grant us the gift of telling the populace why it’s equally exciting when Esther approaches the king to own up to her identity, and when Joseph finally discloses himself to his brothers after the silver cup set-up; when a daughter-in-law turns a trick to rightfully come by her set of twins, and when a crafty judge upends court order by first delivering the sentence “cut the baby in two” so that the verdict can then be evoked from the women themselves;  when someone mistaken for a gardener needs only to say the word “Mary,” and when eyes are finally opened at an Emmaus table in the breaking of the bread.

When preachers speak about verdict and revelation with reference to our culture’s popular stories — stories such as Legally Blonde, Measure for Measure, Harriet the Spy, The Usual Suspects, Much Ado About Nothing, A Few Good Men, The Little Princess, Some Kind of Wonderful, and The Scarlet Pimpernel — verdict and revelation finally get a fair chance at thriving as the words of anticipation the gospel has made of them. Verdict and revelation aren’t shriveled religious concepts for theologians to coax the people into considering.  Those words are already the dynamis of dramatic climax, that moment in our favorite stories when the truth is spoken (finally!) and the veils masking authentic identity are lifted (at last!).

The gospel keeps turning up in the land of popular story like that pesky garlic mustard; this kind of good tidings just won’t confine itself within the borders of pulpit and pew.  So let’s really join the rest of creation in their yearning for kingdom-come reality.  Let’s be known as captive listeners who lean in eagerly to hear every new twist of the cosmic plot.  Let’s preach!  Let’s tell each other that our deepest longings for consummation of love, though sometimes misplaced, are not barren, and that our most outrageous hopes for everything to be made right, while often vindictive, are sure to see a day of restorative justice.  Let’s do our part in circulating the stories which are infused with a Spirit who is able to open any eye to the vision of a certain future: a day of the Lord we all can live with.

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