Uncle Clem Fell Down in the Well— Two Parables

The first parable comes from the Judy Canova Show. It was a radio comedy program from the 1940s. The humor, especially little skits that are supposed to be drawn from Judy’s childhood, embrace a certain “hillbilly humor.” This is a story loosely based on a one-off joke in one of these skits. It is funny ONLY because the premise is patently absurd.

The second story is based on a short story written down by Duane Elmer in his book “Cross-cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility.” Chapter 3

#1. Uncle Clem Fell Down in the Well

One day Judy returned from her work in the big city to visit her family up in the mountains.

She walked straight into the house and called out, “Hey Maw! Hey Paw! I finally made it home., What is new?”

“Good to see you, Judy!” said Paw startled awake on the davenport. “Good to see you, Judy!” said Maw from the kitchen.

Maw continued, “Not much is new. Looks like it is going to be a good apple crop this year. And your sister Emmie has a new beau– new young man down at the sawmill.”

“Don’t forget your brother Clem…” jumped in Paw to Maw.

“What happened to Uncle Clem?” asked Judy.

Maw responded, “Last week, Uncle Clem was splitting wood out back and he got off balance fell down in the old well.”

“Oh dear,” replied Judy. “I hope he is okay.”

Paw reassured Judy. “He hollered up a storm there for quite awhile. But we are pretty sure he is okay now. He stopped yelling a couple of days ago.”

“Yes,” confirmed Maw. “He had us worried there for quite a bit.”

Story #2. The Monkey Rescues the Fish

One day in the rain-forest an especially intense downpour had caused flashflooding. The water rose, the river became turbulent, and many animals were washed away, or were trapped waiting for relief from the raging storm.

One of the lucky ones was a monkey. It had found a strong well-rooted tree and climbed high into tree and found a crook in the branches where it could wait cradled for the storm to subside.

Looking down in the water, the monkey saw a fish. It was struggling against the current that was trying to pull the it downstream. The monkey felt sorry for the fish. It had seen so many, from its safe perch, drawn helplessly along in the flow being pulled to places unknown. But unlike the other animals, this fish was on animal the monkey could possibly help.

The monkey climbed down out of its place of safety and went out on one of the low-hanging branches almost out the end. Straining, it was able to dip his arm into the river and after several failed attempts, the monkey managed to snag the fish and quickly returned to his roost.

The fish struggled in the grasp of the monkey. The monkey held the fish close to calm it down, but the fish kept struggling to get loose.

Finally, it was over. The fish stopped moving. The monkey relaxed. It had successfully saved the fish.

These two stories are opposite to each other in some ways. Primarily, the lesson of one seems to be the importance of doing something, while the other one seems to give the lesson to be the importance of NOT doing something.

But there is a lesson that both of the stories highlight…

NEVER ASSUME THAT SILENCE IS A SIGN THAT EVERYTHING IS OKAY.

Sadly, there is truth that commonly it is ONLY the squeeky wheel that gets the grease. However, Silence does not mean agreement. Calm doesn’t mean compliance. Peacefulness doesn’t mean lack of strife.

The Story Wheel (Part 2)

The previous post was dedicated to the illustration of the story wheel. It is based on work by Sacks, as well as Crossan. But it seemed valuable to me to add ‘antimyth.’ The reason is that a myth ultimately establishes the underlying worldview of the culture. In fact all of the story types (the weakest connection is Action Stories) here are bound to their respective cultures. An Antimyth is a myth that challenges the myth that resides in theculture.

Myth and Antimyth

Remember, with this functionalist view of myth, it is not about being true or false… rather its function in a culture. Myths can as easily be true and historical as they can be fictional or legendary. The underlying myths of Christianity are considerably different from the underlying myths of Islam and Buddhism. As such, the myth in one faith would be an antimyth in another faith.

That is why one is left in a bit of an awkward situation when someone says something like… “Don’t Christians and Muslims (and perhaps other groups) worship the same God?” The argument behind that is that we both worship the one true God, creator of all things. If we both believe there is only one God who is god by His own nature and that that that same God is one and only creator of the universe, it seems silly to say that we worship two different Gods. But, in truth, “God” in Christian culture is not a propositional concept but the God of the story of Christianity, revealed mythically in the Bible. “God” of Islamic culture is also not a propositional concept, but of the Quran and the Hadith. The question is actually whether the myths of Christianity and Islam are compatible. If they are not compatible, then the gods of each are not the same since God of Christianity is the God of the Bible, of the incarnation and of the resurrection, while Allah of Islam is the one of the Quran and the hegira. I would argue that the Bible and Quran correct function as antimyths to each other… despite have some common threads at times. After all, it is hard to imagine any two great works that would disagree on everything.

Apologue

An apologue supports or defends a culture. Fables and folktales typically do since they tell stories commonly with morals that are consistent with the belief structure of the culture. Most movies ultimately seek to support the worldview they are in. “A simple, ordinary guy, gets caught in a web of evil machinations. Although not a “born hero” he sees his need to stand up and be counted to help the innocent common people. Despite horrendous odds, the little guy is able to conquer with the help of a few unlikely supporters.” This story could be seen as an American “Action Story” since it doesn’t have a very strong lesson. On the other hand it can be seen as a rehearsing of the Classic American myth of an honest, hardworking, individualistic “David’ who through courage and good American know-how is able to fight off the evil “Goliath.” But perhaps it is best seen as an Apologue in that it defends the American David myth indirectly by perpetuating it through an “action story.”

Action Story

An action story describes the culture without a lot of judgment. One could argue that most stories are action stories. On the other hand, one could argue that there are no true action stories since all stories are linked to the culture and support or challenge them in some manner. That is why Action story covers a region of the story circle both on the supporting and challenging side of stories. Action stories always speak to the culture but do not have such conversation as their main focus.

Satire

Satires poke fun a cultural traits. While some are sharp, they typically lack a strong positive message. They commonly point out something wrong or unworthy through humor or light attack. But they don’t directly point the way to something better.

Parable

Parables subvert culture. They take a myth and twist it to challenge the underlying cultural presuppositions. They don’t seek to replace the culture. Rather, to open the thinking of cultural members to something bigger than their previous views could accommodate. Parables are different from antimyths since they broaden thinking without necessarily replacing old views.

Which of these are the most valuable in Christian Literature? Probably all of them have a place at times. However, when the purpose of the writing  is to change the mind of the reader, a countercultural (rather than anticultural) approach is probably best. Thus parables should have a prominent place in Christian writing.