Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Parenthetical Reference

If we understand that there are stories we're hearing about but not being told, such as the story of Hammedatha from Agag in Esther, then this should cause us to reflect more faithfully on two aspects of our own story, two little details that will add tremendous meaning and depth to the stories that we are living.

First, we ought to recognize that our own stories are full of parenthetical references. Every day, we brush up against the stories of others, and who those persons are and what their stories are unfolding influences our own.

That means that we ought to be on the lookout for the little details of those other stories that are changing and shaping the way that others read our story. These can either be good or bad, depending on what is going on. For example, it may be that a parenthetical reference on one person with whom we come into contact clues others into the fact that this person is not healthy for us. This may be someone who holds the power to wreck our story in some way, even if we don't see it. The parenthetical reference may spark a recognition that this person is selfish or devious or destructive in some way; it may reveal them as toxic to what we are trying to build, as it seems to do in Hammedatha's case.

On the other hand, the parenthesis may reveal more about who we are, something good and honorable about our character. For example, we may say something like, "Oh, today, I helped my friend Betty plant a few flowers in front of her house." But put a parenthetical reference around Betty that reveals that she is a widow or a cancer patient or a single mother, and that little detail deepens the story of our own life. Now, we are not just a person who cares for our friends. Rather, we are a person who cares for widows or cancer patients or single mothers. That broadens our story in a meaningful way, even if to us, Betty is simply our friend, without all of those other labels.

Think of the persons in Jesus's story. Almost all of them had parenthetical references around them. The woman with the perfume was a woman of ill-repute. Matthew was a tax collector. Bartemaeus was a blind man. Simon was self-righteous. Over and over and over again, we're given details about these men and women that shouldn't matter in regards to how we see them, but they certainly shape the way we see Jesus. Imagine the way His story changes if everyone is just a man or a woman without a story, if we aren't told who these persons are that He loves so deeply.

The same is true of our stories. They are filled with all of these details about the persons that we come in contact with, details that often don't matter to us and shouldn't matter to most, but still, they shape the way that our own story is read, and they do say something about who we are.

The second way that this idea of parenthetical references should shape our own reflection on our stories is that it should cause us to consider our own parenthesis in the stories of others. In the same way that our stories are shaped by those we encounter, we shape the stories of those who encounter us.

Which means that our parenthesis reveals much the same thing. It reveals whether we are a potential villain in someone's story, a threat to them in some way or toxic, even in a way we aren't aware of or don't understand. Or we can reveal the best of someone else by authentically embracing our own story and who we are.

Most of us don't want to be the single friend. We don't want to be the widow or the widower. We don't want to be the person in poverty or in prison or in sickness or in need. We resent the ways these sorts of labels mark us. We don't want to be that person. But the truth remains that we are who we are, who God has made us, living the story He's given us to live. And if we accept that things that shouldn't matter about others can, in fact, shape the way our own story is heard in positive ways, then we must also accept that the things that shouldn't matter about us can, in fact, shape the way the stories of those who love us are heard.

Would you want your story, your real story, left out of Jesus's narrative? Then why do you want it left out of your neighbor's? Or your brother's? Or your friend's? Seeing life and love situated firmly in story changes the way the world understands life and love, so we have to simply be honest about who we are and what we're going through.

Haman was the son of Hammedatha from Agag. What does that even mean? You are the friend of so-and-so. Does that matter? That neighbor over there loves you. Does that change things? You bet it does. Jesus was a friend of sinners. Can you imagine if His story didn't include the details of those He loved so well?

Stories are full of other stories, woven together into one grand narrative. They are never read on their own, but are footnoted and starred and subtexted with a bunch of information that just fits better in parenthesis.

Who are the parenthetical references in your story? And what parenthetical references are you living in someone else's? 

No comments:

Post a Comment