Thursday, June 02, 2005

out of context

Taking things out of context can sometimes be dangerous. Taking someone's words or actions out of context, can lead to misinterpretations and can twist the facts. Sometimes, though, taking things out of context can provide clarity to things that are otherwise hidden from view.

Yesterday I was thinking about how I don't use my name for this blog - in fact, I don't use any of the things I usually use to identify myself. "I'm so-and-so; I've been in school X number of years; I do research in such-and-such; I work for Prof. Fulano; I go to church over there." Why don't I say any of this? Sure, I want to avoid stalkers, but it's more than that. All these ways that I describe myself are, well, the outer layer of my life. That's the part of me that everybody sees, the part of me that I operate in on a day to day basis. But sometimes I need to shed all of that so that I can see what else is there. I think that's where I was getting with my last post when I was talking about traveling. Going home helped me to discover some of the things I have been clinging to, simply because they weren't there for a few days.

I find this taking things out of context in other parts of my life as well. Why do I enjoy the science fiction/fantasy genre so much? I find that this genre, more than other types of fiction, can provide a clarity to they type of world that it presents, because the outer layers that we expect, the sound of the alarm clock every morning, our daily work - the patterns of modern human society as we know them - are taken away.

I think that Jesus and the authors of the New Testament understood this principle. Jesus often spoke in parables. Maybe it was just to trip people up - he wanted to make sure that only those who were smart enough to understand the hidden meanings could be his disciples. I think I did kind of have that fear when I was a child =) But parables are a beautiful way of demonstrating what you want to say in the context of human life, without all of the complications that would often get in the way. Last week, the gospel reading had the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree. Somehow that story always surprises me; Why does he curse the fig tree? Can't the fig tree just keep going on without fruit? On the other hand, does the curse really change anything? If the tree is already so sick that it is not producing fruit, it will eventually die. It cannot survive long like that. It would be impossible to point to a specific person and get the same point across, but we know that each person has things his life that are like that fig tree - they are all right on the surface, no one's complaing, but they're not bearing fruit. There's something wrong, and until the person submits to the attentions of the Gardener (pruning and all), that part of his life will begin to wither. I wonder, though, if it works the other way as well. We know some parts of us are sick, but if we do our best to bear fruit anyway, the effort, with the help of the gardener, will bring us back to health. It is only if we give up on ourselves and completely deny our Lord the chance to work in us that we will wither and die.

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