Friday, May 8, 2009

B + Y ≠ G (a parable explained)

The Elder's meandering thoughts were called back to the present by the sudden reappearance of the Younger amid the bustling evening crowd on the patio. Seating himself once again across the table from his old friend, the Younger immediately broke into a smile as he discovered the welcome presence of curry fries and another round of ale already on the table.

"Was I gone that long?" he asked sheepishly, "or if the Barkeep just that quick?"

"Both," replied the Elder with a wink, beginning to enthusiastically delve into his helping of curry fries, "but I think I should get some credit for 'redeeming the time' while you were otherwise occupied."

"I'll ask the Barkeep to put a plaque with your name on it on this very table," countered the Younger, likewise beginning to make short work of his plate, before the spring evening air could cool the steaming food in front of him. "But, usually curry fries and another round means you're anticipating a longer discussion, am I right?"

The Elder paused as he sipped from his pint to counteract the heat of his food. "Well, longer or not, if you plan to explain your colours formerly known as parable the way I suspect you're going to, then the least I could do was provide a good culinary backdrop."

"Well," began the Younger, wiping his face with a napkin, "on one hand, I could say 'where do I begin', but on the other, it's probably pretty obvious, which in turn probably means that the parable isn't that effective. Assuming, that is, that a parable is supposed to make people think and have to dig a bit for understanding."

The Elder pushed his now-empty plate to the side as he leaned forward on the table. "That's quite an uncharacteristic list of disclaimers, my friend. But still, just so it's been said, (and because I'm curious where you're going to go with this), just go ahead and tell me what the parable means."

The Younger slowly exhaled as his eyes wandered around the cafe, seeing but not seeing the other patrons. "Okay," he said at last, drawing out that brief word, "let's just throw caution to the wind." Leaning forward and speaking in quieter, almost conspiratorial tones, as if he was afraid of being overheard, he continued.

"You've probably already guessed that I'm talking about theology again. And bluntly and indelicately put, the blue circle was referring to Liberal theology and the yellow circle stands for Evangelical theology. I guess my frustration is that if we're supposed to be getting "past" these kind of labels, and seeing, appreciating, and learning from the Other, you'd think that there would be -- if not completely equal -- at least some evidence that both theologies have contributed to creating something new."

"But frankly, I don't see it. What I see is the beliefs "formerly known as" Liberal simply eclipsing and displacing beliefs "formerly known as" Evangelical. It's not getting "past" anything, it's not "new", and it's not about avoiding "labels". It's just one erasing the other while pretending not to do so."

Picking up steam, the Younger became more animated, although to his credit -- remembering, no doubt, the last time he and the Elder had gotten too loud for the Barkeep's liking -- he managed to keep his voice down.

"I mean, it's simply not honest to say we're "getting past labels" like Liberal, Evangelical or whatever, and that we're all equal voices in a "conversation", when there is clearly an agenda of belief structures that sure looks like what we used to call theological liberalism." And he tossed his crumpled napkin back onto the table in frustration as he settled back into his seat, studying the wooden tabletop.

The Elder remained quiet for what seemed an eternity. "Well," he finally said with a rueful smile, "one thing that you can most likely count on: When word of your parable gets out, you will be on the receiving end of a label, I suspect."

The Younger shrugged as he leaned back in his chair. "Bring it on."