The Tell

“And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had very many flocks and herds,  but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.  Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”  Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12:1-6

In the enduring sci-fi, film noir classic, Blade Runner, bounty hunter Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) uses an empathy test to identify Nexus-6 model replicants, who look and act like humans but are not. They are androids. The empathy test is known as the Voigt-Kampff device in the movie and Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, on which Blade Runner is based. The device is a kind of lie detector that measures responses to questions that should provoke empathy. The replicants try to fake the right answers, but they always have a tell. Thus the bounty hunter identifies and “retires” them.

I usually think of stories – fictions – as devices that reveal the truth, but it’s probably much more accurate to say the truth is hidden in them. In fact, Matthew recorded an exchange between Jesus and the disciples on this very subject:

Then the disciples came and said to him [Jesus], “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 

Finally, in a 1960 Paris Review interview, novelist Aldous Huxley said,

And I must say I think that probably all philosophy ought to be written in this form [fiction]; it would be much more profound and much more edifying. It’s awfully easy to write abstractly, without attaching much meaning to the big words. But the moment you have to express ideas in the light of a particular context, in a particular set of circumstances, although it’s a limitation in some ways, it’s also an invitation to go much further and much deeper…In fiction you have the reconciliation of the absolute and the relative, so to speak, the expression of the general in the particular. And this, it seems to me, is the exciting thing—both in life and in art.

Have you ever found a kindred spirit after seeing someone’s response to a story you love? By seeing that person moved by a story that moves you? Do we not all find some commonality and community as Americans and as human beings in the tale of Scout, Jem, and Atticus Finch, and of their friends, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley?  I read that Oprah Winfrey had lunch at the Plaza Hotel once with Harper Lee, and during lunch she attempted to talk Ms. Lee into an interview. Oprah reported the author told her that people thought she was Scout, but actually she was Boo. That was all it took. Oprah “got it” and ceased any attempt to drag Ms. Lee with her shy ways into the limelight. It would have been a sin.

It’s no accident the prophet Nathan approached King David with the story of a slaughtered lamb. David was a shepherd, a man who may have been more tender-hearted toward lambs than husbands. Thus Nathan made his point: The life of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband whom David had killed, was just as precious to the Lord as the life of a sweet, innocent lamb was to a poor man who loved her as a daughter. David “got it” and was moved to remorse.

A new year is upon us. It’s a good time to go back and read those parables in the gospels, the ones Jesus told instead of saying the thousands of other things he might have said. The stories the Holy Spirit made sure were recorded and attested to as having come from the Savior himself. They tell us what the Kingdom of Heaven is really like. They resonate with us as they resonated with the common people who first heard them – people like us. Their meaning doesn’t have to be explained to us. We “get it” right away. These stories bring us together in our shared understanding, and we become kindred spirits.

That, my brothers and sisters, is a marvelous tell.

© M K Simonds

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