This morning as I read a passage from the prophet Jeremiah, the following verse stood out:
How can you say, “We are wise,
and the law of the LORD is with us,”
when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes
has made it into a lie?
The wise shall be put to shame,
they shall be dismayed and taken;
since they have rejected the word of the LORD,
what wisdom is in them? (Jeremiah 8:8-9)
A few verses earlier, the prophet describes how the bones of the important people in Israel – its leaders and priests, prophets and princes – and the inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem will lie “like dung on the surface of the ground.” Quite! Much of the book emphasizes how in the pursuit of worthless things people become worthless themselves: decadent, insatiable, useless. And the end of that road isn’t so pretty, as a result (cue the astonishing armies of Babylon).
God’s pulling no punches in the above passages, and it gets better (or worse), depending on which side of the law you’re on.
Even the stork in the heavens
knows its times;
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane
observe the time of their coming;
but my people do not know
the ordinance of the LORD. (8:7)
What a heavenly smack-down! The people are less then bird brains – they don’t have a clue about the law or the way of God, and it’s all through faults of their own. It’s not like they’ve been kept in the dark, or that God has hidden his intent from them so as to smite them in some Divine tomfoolery. The people of God purposefully, adamantly went astray into “perpetual backsliding” (8:5). They loved their meaningless, self-gratifying tangents. They started writing and believing their own stories, and abandoned their Maker’s narrative.
As I read, I was reminded of a quote from Hollywood script guru Robert McKee, that I think resonates and parallels these passages. A man who himself pulls no punches (concerning the laws belonging to stories well told) McKee writes:
Values, the positive/negative charges of life, are at the soul of our art. The writer shapes story around a perception of what’s worth living for, what’s worth dying for, what’s foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth – the essential values. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on these questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism, and subjectivism – a confusion of values…. This erosion of values has brought with it a corresponding erosion of story. Unlike writers in the past, we can assume nothing. First we must dig deeply into life to uncover new insights, new refinements of value and meaning, then create a story vehicle that expresses our interpretation to an increasingly agnostic world. No small task. (from Story)
What an interesting conversation the prophet Jeremiah and Mr. McKee seem to have. And the colours I want to fill in the open space formed between the outline of both writers’ connected dots are shades of conscious faith.
Jeremiah highlights that the scribe, who in his time was artisan, teacher – he who made clear through communication the word or truth about God – has the power, with the pen, to prepare a way for people to walk on, a way that opens up a path of meaning and truth to walk upon. McKee goads the writers and story tellers of our time to connect again with meaning: writers must uncover and tell the truth. Anything less is useless pulp.
If writers pursue worthless things, then it follows that their stories will be worthless too. It’s sort of an Old Testament and Hollywood guru spin on “Judge the tree by the fruit.” Let’s not pretend you can separate a work of writing, artistry, teaching, or meaning from a philosophical position or worldview.
Our non/fictions matter. Our aesthetic relates to what we believe.
When our bones are uncovered, they will lie like dung on the surface of the ground, or tell another story, forming an intricate design.
I prefer the less common burial.