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Monday, February 23, 2009

A Fish Story

Lately, parables have become the fashion, at least, in my circles. It must have been centuries since they passed out of fashion. There is something of a greater truth exhibited or perhaps a greater impression with the truth exhibited in them. No clear-cut information, no formula, no how-to book, only a simple story and something of a zing, or a breaking up of an idea to catch some glimpse of something beyond an idea. Christ used them, just as all rabbis used them. But the art goes wholly neglected in our day and age. Stories are merely kept around for their entertainment value. If anyone wants an instruction on how to live then we have merely step by step procedures and practical how-to volumes that line the book shelves, some of them bestsellers. Yet there is something altogether more challenging in a parable. For it is not so much nearly knowing and understanding, as it is discovering and transforming. We, today may match ancient humanity in our creativity with our diversions, we probably surpass them. But it seems that ancient humanity was far more creative in their inner values. With our inner values we are the most unimaginative people ever. We know so much, but we discover so little. The below is a parable I wrote for a meeting at a pub in downtown Birmingham. An author and theologian, Peter Rollins was present, who is all into these parables. Just talking to him you get about 3 good ones per conversation. To the point, however when one is talking about God, it is impossible to merely state the facts. Stories must be used. So with no further ado…


Captain Ahab and Jonah and a bunch of fishermen sat in a fishermen’s pub swapping “fish stories”. Captain Ahab was sure that he had the biggest fish story. So he proceeded with exciting expressions and flaying arm spans to talk proudly about what he called “the world’s greatest fish”. He told incredible stories, told how he had lost one of his legs, the very foundation of himself, to this great big white whale.
“But do ye think that slowed me down one bit?” he’d say, “No, I got a sturdy, wooden pegleg and now I stand firmer than ever, and chased that great beast around the world!” He then talked on and on about the many times he stabbed the gargantuan creature with his harpoon. And how with every stab, it made him more and more crazed with this one alone obsession of stabbing this behemoth of the deeps and he cared for little else but that one great final stab and then latching the whale to his boat. His voice grew louder and louder as he talked about his obsession. Until, by the end of his tirade he was balancing on top a chair with a pool stick in his hand thrusting it in the air, fomenting, “From the heart of hell I stab at thee!!” But everyone in the pub was quite used to it by now. This was usual; Captain Ahab and his theatrics.

But still it was quite a good story and there was considerably commotion around the pub about this great fish. No one could top it. But the spectacle was short-lived when someone uttered, “Jonah, didn’t you have a fish story? Didn’t this huge fish swallow you whole?”
At this the whole assembly of salty seamen gasped and looked in astonishment at the reserved Jonah. Captain Ahab, a bit perturbed after seeing that the shock effect he had over the crowd had so quickly waned and was replaced by another man’s fish story gruffed out, “Swallowed by a fish?! Why, this fish couldn’t possibly be bigger than my fish! Anyhow, I’ll wager on it. That my fish is bigger than your fish. For I alone know the dimensions, the measurements, and proportions of my fish. Folks, he’s a straight up terror to know and to look in the face as I have done. So tell me, Jonah, just how big was your fish?”
Jonah paused and the began searching for words that were not really surfacing, “ I really can’t say. It must’ve been big to some degree…I mean big enough, at least, to swallow me. But I really can’t say just how big. How scary it was. It was so dark. –So empty. Just this great void of darkness. I lay there without sight, without the ability to hardly move for several days. At times, my mind would wander and I would even begin to question if I was really in the belly of a whale. Maybe I was in some sort of coma-like dream, or maybe I was even lying blinded in my bed. But it was cold and it was wet. And on occasion, I could feel everything move all of a sudden, and this would awaken me, and I would think that maybe, just maybe the whole thing was real, that I was in the belly of a giant fish. But sorry, I really can’t tell you how big it was, if it really was a fish at that.”

With his calm, cool voice completing the story, everyone stared. Captain Ahab smiled a big smile knowing that he had the more provable and bigger fish story. But on the contrary, though they didn’t say anything, all the other fishermen in the pub knew down in their silent hearts that Jonah had the more convincing fish story. “His was probably a far bigger fish too” they all thought to themselves, as a profound silence fell about the pub.

It is those on the inside that are the most clueless as to what is going on, while those on the outside are the experts. Many times, it is those in the darkness of doubt that are more embraced by God, than those surveying Him from afar. God from the surface is always explainable; God from the deeps is entirely unexplainable. Sometimes He’s so close, He seems absent. Mother Teresa’s doubt comes to mind here. This is the paragon and paradox of faith.
Captain Ahab is a representation of a very modernistic view of God. He’s obsession his stabbing the whale, that is staking Him down. He rides upon the surface with his pegleg which points to his insistence on foundation, on being able to stand on something. While Jonah lays hardly able to move in the belly of the fish. Captain Ahab is also much about theatrics, which may point to the emotional manipulation that is found in many churches of today. Jonah on the other hand seems uninterested in the competition. His speech shows uncertainty and humility. There are probably some other things that can be seen in a simple story, but the beauty of a parable is its multi-layeredness. You could discover something that the author was completely oblivious of.


Anonymous Greg Newton said...

Better than the first time.

7:30 PM  

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