In high school and college I was fascinated by great literature. I especially liked the classics such as Catcher in the Rye (about a Jewish baseball player), The Call of the Wild (about an out-of-control Mother’s Day Out program), Archie Comics, and Cliff Notes. Lessons learned from some of those giants of literature  have stayed with me. Animal Farm taught me how to be a youth minister. War and Peace prepared me for church business meetings. Great Expectations has been a great inspiration as I have dealt with anyone named “Pip.”

On a personal note, what better education for dealing with the many mood swings of my own teenagers than Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Moby Dick has been a tremendous help to me through the years whenever I tried to harpoon a whale.  Achilles, from Homer’s Iliad, comes to mind every time I meet someone with a bad heel. Finally, who could forget Satan’s associate, Beelzebubba, from John Milton’s Paradise Lost in Alabama.

To fully appreciate great literature there are certain terms we must understand. Baroque is a literary style that is without flaw, as in the statement, “It ain’t baroque, it’s just leaning a little to the left.” The Baconian Theory is a popular theory that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his works while eating a lot of pork. Carpe diem is a phrase coined in Arkansas which means “That carp is dead.” Coda is a brief addition in the middle of a biblical passage, as in the phrase “Joseph and his coda many colors.”

Bucolic describes a quiet, pastoral story about sick babies, and a closed couplet is a husband and wife with no friends. Signifier is a concrete sign that evokes an abstract idea, like in the statement “Remember, only you can prevent signifiers.” The setting is the natural background of a story set in any southern state, as in the sentence “The last time I saw your parents they was setting over there by that possum.”

Another masterful piece of literature is the parable of the good Samaritan. It has melodrama, plot, characters, and a narrator. To fully appreciate its meaning we must first come to terms with its intent. The main question in this parable is not “Who is my neighbor?” as suggested by the expert in the law in conversation with Jesus.  The main question should be “To whom can I be a neighbor?” That’s the trouble with understanding the parables. They were meant to be verbs, not nouns.

Thinking classically we wouldn’t have to go very far from the madding crowd to find a hurting neighbor. For some of us the journey would be like entering a brave new world. Even if all they did was try to kill a mockingbird it is always easier to pass by on the other side. A hurting person is sometimes just looking for a friend and then that friend passes by and is simply gone with the wind. We are supposed to have a heart like Christ, not a heart of darkness. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8 NIV).

We all have hurts and needs which can be helped by the outstretched hand of a Christian brother or sister, showing Christian love because of what Christ did on the cross.  Even the scarlet letter fades into oblivion against the backdrop of the blood of Christ.

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