Friday, June 17, 2005

when literal and subliminal clash

In the Fundamentalist response to Liberalism a number of conservative evangelical groups became even more literal in their interpretation of scripture and consequently their interpretation of all written and spoken words and manner of living. It seems to me that the Anabaptist traditions who maintained their literal/actual interpretation of scripture throughout the years had even more incentive to remain as they were, in this respect, perhaps even step it up a notch.
When we were younger, my mother used to scold us severely when we used any metaphors. “It’s an oven in here.” “She’s so fat, she’s a pig.” We never learned—“It’s raining cats and dogs.” We were rebuked for lying if we happened to use any metaphor in her presence. There was an old guy in my church Sunday School who interpreted the Proverbs literally every time it said, “My son…” I don’t recall what they did with, “Isaac have I loved and Esau have I hated.” Hence, I never learned how to read subliminal messages very well. Sometimes I overcompensate. Sometimes I miss it entirely. My poor mother doesn’t get half the e-mail forwards I send her. Subliminals are usually the culprit. Acting was even a sin because you were pretending to be someone you were not and that was too close to lying. It wasn’t until eighth grade English that I learned what a metaphor was and how to use it. I learned much later in life that people often said one thing but meant another. Along these crazy lines of literal and subliminal, there have at times been funny clashes. I’ve come a long way in my understanding of the subliminals someone might send. But am often lost and confused as well. At other times, I would just as soon rip out all my hair and scream in frustration at the circular games folks play with each other.

Here’s a story from good ol’ Menno Simons himself, using the truth quite literally, such that, it seems, the spirit of the truth was altered quite radically.
Menno is on his way from one town to another via carriage. These are the days of Anabaptist persecution and there are some folks hot on his path attempting to arrest him and ultimately burn him at the stake. A group of such vigilantes pulled abreast the carriage Menno is on and ask if one named Menno Simons is in the carriage. Incidentally, Menno had been riding on top of the carriage with the driver. Instead of turning himself in, he bent down to poke his head into the carriage asking all inside, “they want to know if there is one by the name of Menno Simons in the carriage.” To which those inside responded, “No, there is none by such a name here.” Menno in turn responded to those who sought him, “They say that there is none by the name of Menno Simons inside the carriage.” The vigilantes rode off swiftly, attempting to catch him further up the rode. Thus, Menno is saved yet again from lying and from death, in the strange crag between the spirit of the truth and the literal truth.

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