The Parable of the ER Ward Patient

The Parable of the ER Ward patient          by Peter Corney

An unconscious patient has just been admitted to the ER department at a major metro hospital that specialises in very sick organisations. After being triaged and seen by the ER doctor they are sent off for a series of tests; X-rays, blood tests, an MRI and an ECG.

Tests show the patient is not dead, they have a faint pulse, but are deeply unconscious.

The blood tests reveal a serious theological anaemia and a system compromised by ‘liberal theological reductionism’* and cultural conformity. Provisional diagnosis would indicate the sustained absence of a proper diet of orthodox and intelligent teaching from the organisations primary sources. This has seriously threatened their identity, distinctiveness and understanding of their core purpose.

X-rays and bone density scans show their skeletal structure is affected by osteoporosis and there are a series of fractures in critical areas such as leadership, outreach and evangelism, youth and children’s ministry, discipling, community and worship style. The leadership crisis would seem to be the result of a long term neglect of good recruiting, selection and training and a model of ministry dominated by pastoral maintenance. It would also seem that an out dated and irrelevant model of the local congregation has been pursued for too long.

The ECG indicates heart disease resulting from a lack of emphasis on personal commitment, the Holy Spirit and prayer. This is the reason for the low energy, passion and commitment.

The MRI reveals the presence of a brain tumour. Further test show it is cancerous – a BXY 304 type which affects specific neurological functioning. This results in symptoms of denial and inability to face reality or make serious decisions.

The patients name is Ecclesia. Their only future lies in radical treatment of the underlying pathologies.

(*Footnote:  ‘Liberal theological reductionism’ is a theological pathogen that reshapes the Churches faith and practice by reducing and accommodating its beliefs to the current plausibility structure or world view of the time, what people find plausible or easy to believe in the current culture. It usually does this by stealth, by preserving the Christian words and symbols but changing their first order meaning or emptying out their original meaning. For example; currently doctrines like the Atonement, the divinity of Christ, the incarnation, salvation by Christ alone, Biblical authority, sexual ethics, etc., are the subject of major revisionism by Liberal Reductionists. Rather than challenging and critiquing the spirit of the times with the long perspective of the historic faith it does the reverse. In this sense it is intellectually provincial and limited, bound to its culture and controlled by fashion – a kind of Dior theology. It currently goes under the banner of ‘Progressive Christianity.’ It is often embraced by Christians who failed to work through the difficult questions early in their Christian life. They put them on hold only for them to resurface later in life.)


Truth and the Power of Stories

TRUTH AND THE POWER OF STORIES

An old Jewish Rabbi known and respected for his learning and wit was once asked by his students why he often illustrated truth by telling a story. With a wry smile he replied “I can best explain that through a story, a parable about parable itself.”

“There was a time when Truth walked among people unclothed and unadorned, as naked as his name. But whoever saw truth turned away in shame or fear and gave him no welcome. So Truth wandered through the earth rebuffed and unwanted.

One day, when feeling very sad and lonely, he met Parable strolling along happily dressed in many brightly coloured clothes. Parable asked, ‘Truth, why do you seem so sad? ’ ‘Because I am so old and unattractive, I seem to cause fear in people and so they avoid me’ said Truth. ‘Nonsense’, laughed Parable, ‘That is not why they avoid you. Here borrow some of my clothes and see what happens.’

So Truth donned some of Parables lovely colourful clothes and, to his surprise, everywhere he now went he was welcomed.”

The old Rabbi smiled and said; “ For the truth is that people cannot face truth naked, they much prefer him clothed.”

Peter Corney. (25/3/12)

(I am not sure of the origin of this story or the source of where I first encountered it but I salute its author.  I have since discovered that another version of it can be found in ‘Yiddish Folk Tales’ ed. by B.Silverinan. Pantheon Books NY)


The parable of the life boats

by Haus - Wikipediaby Peter Corney

A cruise ship is making its way across the Pacific Ocean on a beautiful calm tropical day. The passengers are strolling along the deck, swimming in the pool, sun baking or playing deck games.

Suddenly without warning the emergency alarm sounds shattering the calm. The crew hurriedly gathers the passengers on the boat deck. They are told that a fire has broken out in the engine room and the ship is in danger of sinking. They must launch the life boats.

Four life boats are launched and because of the natural law of association the first life boat is quickly filled with all the pessimists’ on board. The conversation in this boat runs like this: I knew I should never have gone on a boat trip … I don’t suppose there is another ship for thousands of miles … they’ll never find us …. they say dying of thirst is very nasty … Someone has brought their guitar with them and has begun to sing nihilistic songs by Kurt Cobain and REM. No one has taken any initiative to get them organised and rowing, after all what’s the point, they are thousands of miles from any land and anyway in what direction should they row? And, as someone pointed out: Even if we found an Island, global warming and rising sea levels means that we wouldn’t last long there any way.

The second life boat gathers all the hedonists. Most are still dressed in their bathers and sports gear. They have also managed to wangle a case of champagne on to the life boat and some glasses. As their boat pushes away from the sinking ship you can still hear the laughter and the chink of glasses. Some are even diving off the life boat and swimming back and forth, after all it’s a lovely day. Some one is heard to say: Hey this is so exciting … I wonder what time the boat or plane to pick us up will arrive?

The third life boat has gathered all the optimists, they are already organised and rowing strongly as a team in an unwavering direction; there is no doubt in their mind that there is an Island just over the horizon.

There had been a conference (junket) on deconstruction and post modern literature on the cruise for lecturers from university arts faculties. They have all gathered in the fourth life boat. Some have managed to bring their copies of Derrida and Foucault and other impenetrable books with them. Ironically they are the only boat with a chart and compass, the problem is they can’t agree on how to read them! They are engaged in a furious debate about the meaning of the arrow and the north symbol on the compass and the chart. The argument is that originally they were drawn up by men in a world dominated by patriarchy and therefore are tainted with gender bias and can not be trusted. The arrow is really a phallic symbol of male sexual dominance. In any case what is a map but one person’s perspective of the way things are. This boat is obviously not going anywhere!

Meanwhile, unknown to our boats a storm is gathering just over the horizon.

Each of these “boats” represents different attitudes to life and reality that anyone trying to communicate the Christian faith in a contemporary setting faces.


The parable of the pie sign

by Peter Corney

The German theologian Helmut Thieleke tells the story of a young man walking through the European countryside one summer’s day. It is nearly lunch time and he is feeling hungry. As he walks along he sees a handsomely painted sign advertising a meat pie, it looks delicious. He thinks there must be a village up ahead soon where I can buy a nice fresh pie for lunch. Soon he comes to the village and sure enough there is a shop and outside is another beautifully painted sign of an appetizing pie.

He enters the shop and in hungry anticipation orders a pie. But the lady behind the counter looks puzzled: “Oh” she says, “we don’t sell pies we only sell signs, we are a sign shop. Try the next village.”

When the Christian Church retains the signs and symbols of classical Christianity but changes or empties them of their first order meaning then it becomes just a sign shop, selling the symbols but not what they signify. There is no nourishment in such signs.

If, for example, you retain the Lord’s Supper and its rich symbols of bread and wine but you no longer believe in Christ’s death as an atonement for our sin nor believe in his real bodily resurrection to give us new and eternal life and you do not even believe that he is the unique divine son of God, then you will become just a sign shop peddling symbols of the real thing – signs without substance, the wrapper without the reality. In the end everyone who turns up is left hungry and if you come regularly you will starve to death.


The parable of the maze

By Peter Corney

There is a Greek myth called the Maze of Minos. According to the myth the maze or labyrinth was built on the island of Crete by the King of Crete. In the heart of this maze lived a terrible and fierce beast, half man half bull known as the Minator.

Because the Athenians had killed a son of the king of Crete he demanded an annual sacrifice from them of seven young men and seven young women, they were sacrificed to the beast of the maze.

To bring this terrible obligation to an end the king of Athens sends his son Theseus to slay the beast. This was a very risky strategy, the maze was a very dangerous place many had attempted this before and failed to return.

It was easy to get lost in the maze. It was full of bypaths, dead ends and false trails. There were shadowy and dark places where one lost ones bearings. Strange mists and gases could suddenly descend to seduce the senses. Spirits and disembodied voices called confusing directions. It was so easy to loose your way or even forget who you were, where you had come from and why you had come. And of course always waiting for you to drop your guard was the monster of the maze, the Minator.

But the young prince of Athens successfully negotiates the maze, slays the beast and returns. The key to his success was a gift from the princess Ariadne, a special jeweled cord. He kept himself from getting lost by letting out the cord as he ventured into the maze. The cord also reminded him constantly of who he was, where he had come from and why he had come on the journey. Because the cord went all the way back to where he had started he was able to find his way back. So the cord, with its jewels sewn in every few meters and given out of love kept him connected to his origins, his purpose and his identity and so saved him.

We can translate this myth into a parable for the Christian life. Every new generation of thoughtful young Christians has to explore the spirit of their age, the intellectual ideas and moral values of the world they live in and the new frontiers of knowledge. They need to face the challenges that these present to their Christian faith and values. They must confront and measure the critique of their beliefs by the contemporary culture. They must evaluate the validity of the current plausibility structure, what people find easy or hard to believe and why. They need to know and reflect on the intellectual history of the Church and see how Christians have responded to similar issues in the past. They have to review the expression of the faith they have received and see if it is relevant to the issues of their day. They have to enter the maze! There will from time to time be a monster in the maze like fascism and the Nazis that the German Christians faced in the 1930’s or the decadent consumerism and selfism of today. Like the maze of Minos the spirit of the age is a very seductive and confusing place it is easy to get lost and never return.

The only way to avoid getting lost or your faith being destroyed in this maze is to have a way of remaining connected to your faith origins, to where you have come from. You need the gift of love, Ariadne’s jeweled cord. You must keep remembering where you have come from, the foundations of your faith and why you began this journey or you may never return.

As a Christian you can do that in a number of ways:

  1. If you have had a conversion or critical faith experience through which you became a Christian or your inherited faith became vital and personal, then do not despise or denigrate it, cherish it. You may no longer feel comfortable with all the surroundings of your spiritual birthplace but it was your birthplace and God called you to him in that place and experience. There may be social and cultural factors, even the style and attitude of the people associated with the event or experience that you no longer feel an affinity with but you should not allow that to undermine the reality and validity of Gods action in your life at that time. Retain the truth of what God did in your life.
  2. Remain connected with the Christian community. In spite of its imperfections, attending the weekly gathering of God’s people with its constant reminder of the fundamentals of our faith, the regular exposure to teaching from Gods Word and the fellowship with other believers is essential.
  3. To keep contemporary and cultural challenges in perspective you need to retain the bigger historic picture. Contemporary challenges to the Christian faith often have a very narrow and historically provincial basis; they are frequently tied to the world view of the day and ignore the larger sweep of the history of thought and practice. Retaining the long view and the bigger picture and the classic beliefs of historic Christianity that have existed in many cultures and epochs is very important to resist being blown about by every contemporary cultural and ideological squall.
  4. Keep reading God’s word regularly and thoughtfully.
  5. Keep praying. Remember Christianity is a relational faith. It is about loving God and loving our neighbor. To keep our relationship alive we need to communicate with God.
  6. Beware of cynicism it is the acid of the soul. It reinforces despair, paralyses action and feeds the loss of hope. Oscar Wild once said “a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

    These are some of the jewels in the thread that will keep you connected to your past and your identity in Christ.

    Now of course you can not return from such a journey unchanged. The experience will deepen and toughen you. You can not battle the maze and its monster successfully without learning much about yourself and a great deal more about your faith foundations and God’s gift to you.


    The parable of the broken story – or playing in the wreckage of Western culture.

    By Peter Corney

    Imagine a fourteenth century church which has a series of beautiful stained glass windows that tell the biblical story.

    They begin on the south side of the nave near the entrance and font with a window that depicts Adam and Eve as the crown of God’s creation, their act of disobedience and their ejection from the garden. As we proceed along the south wall the windows continue the story. There is the flood and the ark and the rainbow of promise. Then we see the call of Abraham. Further along is a striking window of the young David, the future king slaying Goliath; and then on to the great Prophet Isaiah foretelling the coming of the eternal king the Messiah.

    When we turn to the north side wall of the nave we begin with a nativity scene and then John the Baptist by the river Jordan with Christ coming to be baptized; then there is the healing of the blind man and then the Sermon on the Mount. As we approach the chancel steps the last window on the north side is of the last supper and betrayal by Judas.

    Finally as we walk up through the chancel towards the sanctuary there on the east wall above the Holy Table is the powerful crucifixion widow with its red and blue – black glass with touches of translucent gold. It has a terrible beauty. The cross takes our eyes upwards to a triumphant mosaic of the risen and ascended Christ. Finally they reach the apex of the great arch in which is placed a circular window, or more correctly three intersecting circles. Each circle contains a symbol – a crown for God the Father, a lamb for God the Son and a dove for God the Holy Spirit. The light shining through the brilliant colors crowns the whole east end picture with a transcendent glow.

    The whole is a magnificent artistic depiction of the great Judeo/Christian meta – narrative of creation, fall and redemption that interpret’s history, the future and reality; the story and the values on which Western culture has been constructed.

    But a catastrophe is about to overtake this place. There is a great earthquake and the building is almost completely destroyed. Such is the magnitude of the shocks that every window is shattered, even the mosaic on the east wall is shaken free and destroyed.

    If you were to approach the building now, although a ruin, its shape is still discernable, but the beautiful windows and mosaic lay shattered and scattered in a thousand fragments on the stone floor of the building.

    Imagine visiting the site many years’ later, you see people picnicking on the grass nearby and a child sitting on the remains of the flagstone floor. As you come closer you see that she is playing with fragments of stained glass and mosaic that she has collected. She moves them in little random patterns of color and shape lost in her game unaware of the origin of the colored pieces in her game.

    As you observe this scene you wonder how you could explain to her or her parents what all these fragments really mean, what they once represented. That is the challenge that Christians in the Post Modern West are now confronted with as they seek to evangelize their culture.

    Jean Baudrillard, an influential writer on Post Modernism, describing the results of the deconstruction of all objective universals and norms says: “All that is left are the pieces. All that remains to be done is to play with the pieces. Playing with the pieces that is Post Modernism”*

    (*Jean Baudrillard. Quoted in ‘Truth Decay’ by Douglas Groothuis. IVP 2000 p169)