In the front flap of Peter Rollins‘ new book, The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossibles Tales, he writes: “Religious writing is usually designed to make the truth of faith clear, concise, and palatable. Parables subvert this approach. In the parable, truth is not expressed via some dusty theological discourse that seeks to educate us, but rather it arises as a lyrical dis-course that would inspire and transform us. In light of this, the enclosed parables do not seek to change our minds but rather to change our hearts.”
In the ensuing thirty-three short parables – most averaging less than five hundred words – Pete creates a space for us to encounter Truth through story, to let it infect our own stories in such a way so that they are changed. In the introduction, Pete continues this thought: “A parable does not primarily provide information about our world. Rather, if we allow it to do its work within us, it will change our world – breaking it open to ever-new possibilities by refusing to be held by the categories that currently exist within that world. In this way the parable transforms the way we hold reality, and thus changes reality itself.”
After each parable, Pete offers a short commentary, but not, as he is quick to point out, to stand as the definitive ruling on what these parables mean. “…[I]t is helpful to approach these commentaries in the same manner as one might approach the descriptions that are often found beside a painting in an art museum. These descriptions are not designed to explain the art, as if the art were somehow incomplete or incompetent, but rather act as a means of providing a place of entry for the uninitiated.”
I had the chance to hear Pete share several of these stories, in his easy-to-listen-to Irish brogue, when he was in Nashville for a day or two back in March, and hearing his voice when you read them makes the reading experience more enjoyable. Leading up to the release of the book, Pete taped himself reading several of the parables and uploaded them to YouTube, which you can watch here, here and here.
I’ve been reading a couple parables a day for the last week or so, letting them soak in. Here is one of my favorites.
There was once a fiery preacher who possessed a powerful but unusual gift. He found that, from an early age, when he prayed for individuals, they would supernaturally lose all of their religious convictions. They would invariably lose all of their beliefs about the prophets, the sacred Scriptures, and even God. So he learned not to pray for people but instead limited himself to preaching inspiring sermons and doing good works.
However, one day while traveling across the country, the preacher found himself in conversation with a businessman who happened to be going in the same direction. This businessman was a very powerful and ruthless merchant banker, one who was honored by his colleagues and respected by his adversaries.
Their conversation began because the businessman, possessing a deep, abiding faith, had noticed the preacher reading from the Bible. He introduced himself to the preacher and they began to talk. As they chatted together this powerful man told the preacher all about his faith in God and his love of Christ. He spoke of how his work did not really define who he was but was simply what he had to do.
“The world of business is a cold one,” he confided to the preacher, “and in my line of work I find myself in situations that challenge my Christian convictions. But I try, as much as possible, to remain true to my faith. Indeed, I attend a local church every Sunday, participate in a prayer circle, engage in some youth work, and contribute to a weekly Bible study. These activities help to remind me of who I really am.”
After listening carefully to the businessman’s story, the preacher began to realize the purpose of his unseemly gift. So he turned to the businessman and said, “Would you allow me to pray a blessing into your life?”
The businessman readily agreed, unaware of what would happen. Sure enough, after the preacher had muttered a simple prayer, the man opened his eyes in astonishment.
“What a fool I have been for all these years!” he proclaimed. “It is clear to me now that there is no God above, who is looking out for me, and that there are no sacred texts to guide me, and there is no Spirit to inspire and protect me.”
As they parted company the businessman, still confused by what had taken place, returned home. But now that he no longer had any religious beliefs, he began to find it increasingly difficult to continue in his line of work. Faced with the fact that he was now just a hard-nosed businessman working in a corrupt system, rather than a man of God, he began to despise his activity. Within months he had a breakdown, and soon afterward gave up his line of work completely. Feeling better about himself, he then went on to give to the poor all the riches he had accumulated and began to use his considerable managerial expertise to challenge the very system he once participated in, and to help those who had been oppressed by it.
One day, many years later, he happened upon the preacher again while walking through town. He ran over, fell at the preacher’s feet, and began to weep with joy. Eventually he looked up at the preacher and smiled, “Thank you, my dear friend, for helping me discover my faith.”