I have had the unique experience of seeing the sun set in the East. In 1977, on a flight from San Francisco, the sun rose just before the plane began its descent into Honolulu. A mere 15 minutes after seeing the sun rise in the East, it sank once again below the horizon: setting in the East.
Less than a century ago, such an experience would have been regarded as bogus. Even today, there are many who would rightfully question my initial statement, and others who would argue the toss as to whether what I viewed was a sunset.
Consider the following story:
Although only a poor peasant farmer he was considered very well off, because he owned horse which he could use for ploughing and for transport. One day his horse ran away. A his neighbours commiserated with him and exclaimed how terrible this was, but the farmer, simply replied, 'Perhaps.'
A few days later the horse returned and brought two wild horses with it. The neighbours all rejoiced at this great good fortune, but the farmer just said 'Perhaps'.
The next day the farmer's son tried to ride one of the wild horses; the horse threw him and he broke his leg as he hit the ground. The neighbours all offered their sympathy for his misfortune, but the farmer again said, 'Perhaps'.
A few days later Government soldiers came to the village to take young men for the army. They rejected the farmer's son because of his broken leg. When the neighbours told him how lucky he was, the farmer replied, 'Perhaps'.
Both of the above stories demonstrate the ways in which context changes understanding: such that the event is interpreted differently. It is a technique known as 'reframing'. The sun setting in the East becomes a possibility, the apparent tragic loss of a horse seen differently.
This technique was used effectively by Jesus when the woman caught in adultery is under scrutiny: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" is a statement which changes the attitude of the accusers to the woman. An old truth becomes vitally fresh.
In an age when the church is largely ignored, there is a definite need to reframe the gospel: to put its truth into a different light where people who are inured to the context and content of the message we proclaim encounter it in contexts and settings which give it vitality and relevance. Last Sunday's communion experience was somewhat reframed: the smell of fresh bread adding a different dimension to a familiar context.
Sometimes the familiarity of the message itself is our greatest enemy. To set it in a new light and new context enables a fresh encounter, finally enabling us to see what was always there. It only requires a little creativity...
September 9, 2001
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