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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks and Reading the Gospel

I said recently that the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, could provide a helpful analogy for Scripture
First a recap:
Saving Mr. Banks is a movie.
The movie is based on a real life event, the making of another movie (Mary Poppins)
The movie was based, in large part, upon a book written about the woman who wrote the Mary Poppins series, but included some memories of people involved (written and oral sources).
The Mary Poppins series, while  fictional, still weaves together true life events, ideas inspired by true life events, longing produced by true life events. It has all manner of intentional (and unconscious) choices made by the author, PL Travers which communicate to us (sometimes without her knowing it) things about her as well as providing popular children’s reading.
[The movie, Mary Poppins, is quite different from the books. (I never read the books and saw the movie when it first came out). For example, Movie Mary is a less austere figure. However, my intent is not to analyze the author, book, movie and movie about the author and movie. It is to draw an analogy to Scripture.]
A movie can only be based on real events. It is not c-span, with a camera trained on the scene. (and even c-span, with its simple relay system of film and send cannot give us the whole story. Without background information and in depth knowledge of the people involved what appears on the screen is always hard to interpret accurately). If the event is more than two hours then a movie has to edit endlessly. A particular moment is forced to carry the full weight of a character. Perhaps three or four different events are combined in a true but not literally how it happened image. It is how artistic (and all narratives, especially history, are a work of art) endeavors seek to communicate.
Like Ms. Travers (whose name is a literary creation, taken from her father’s first name. Helen Lyndon Goff is here given name) Jesus is a real live man. He was born and lived in the Middle East some 2000 years ago in a Jewish family. He is called “the Christ” which is a literary title. It means “the Anointed” and refers to a large number of folk in the Bible—including Kings and priests, and perhaps even some prophets. As we recently wrote, it was used by Isaiah to refer to Cyrus, the Persian king. In a sense, the term anointed (Messiah) is a metaphor, referring to God’s chosen heroes in every age. Now, the NT makes clear that Jesus is not any Messiah, He is the perfect Messiah, the fulfillment of the Messianic (hence Hebrews calls Him a high priest).
The Gospel ‘book’ (Bible is Greek for book) cannot contain all the events of Jesus’ life. The writers were terribly limited physically (it could take weeks and months to copy words on the ancient parchment, and there were limits on space and pages we do not have today). The Gospels as presently constituted take as long to read as it takes to watch a longish movie (2-3 hours) so the analogy has some basis.
The writers have to combine their materials available (both written sources and oral tradition, stories which floated around the church) in a way which conveys the point(s) they are trying to make. In the Fourth Gospel the author tells us twice that what was in his Gospel is a small part of what Jesus did, but he is telling us the things he tells us so that we will come to faith. In other words, he tips his hand. His intent is to bring us to faith, so he shapes his story telling to clarify for us that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son, and the Savior.
A book cannot contain all of a reality. A movie cannot contain everything in a book. The Jewish Scriptures serve as a book source to the Gospel (movie). As such, we understand the latter better if we know the former. It may be helpful to stay aware of how all human communication works, especially if we believe the inspired authors of Scripture were humans.
Thinking about that process (events, interpretation, writing, later editing, and later events, most importantly Jesus’ life, which was lived in dialogue with that written Jewish text—and those events being written by other people reading the Jewish Bible and constituted as a narrative). The whole complex process is much broader and deeper than words like ‘fact’ can convey.
What really happened entails meaning, too. How the authors, following ancient rules for writing and operating with ancient expectations for writing, convey their information must be seen as more complex than a c-span window into Jesus life. And I for one continue to wrestle with exactly what does that mean!

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