Corresponding with Mark on the Story of Joseph
My son Mark was gracious and gave me permission to put our correspondence into my website. My book, which will hopefully be published, is about Luther’s Commentary on Joseph found in Luther’s Works, volumes six through eight.
February 3rd 2010
I just finished reading your book! I enjoyed it very much. While I’ll admit on a whole it was a little too intellectual for me to understand, I could understand and was moved by a good deal of it. Some of the ideas and comments that came to my head that I wrote down that I want to share with you, may not really pertain to what you were concerned with and writing about, but these were just neat things I thought of as I was reading it.
Walter Brueggemann’s Quote about songs (I’ll put it in.)
In dramatic and dynamic ways, songs may also function to evoke and form new realities that did not exist until or apart from the actual singing of the song. (From “Psalms and the Life of Faith”)
The idea that songs can evoke a new reality that did not exist before and can in fact evoke them in the actual process of the singing of the song
This is the reason I write music, and one of things I’ve always felt Marc Bolan’s Music does to me (especially his song “The Broken Hearted Blues”).
It also reminds me of Ovid’s adaptation of the Orpheus myth in which he talks about the poet’s ability to create a beautiful environment and world for others and for themselves with the poems they write. Ovid describes Orpheus sitting down on a lonely hillside that’s devoid of life and playing a song on his lyre and all the trees of the land gathering around him and giving him shade; creating a beautiful oasis around him.
Your idea about Luther’s Joseph commentary drawing us into its “world” and changing us in that world like a parable draws us in and affects us.
This is another reason I make art. In my Junior year of college with a friend I went to see a live symphony at the Walt Disney concert hall in Downtown LA. On our way there, my friend asked me why I was into Theater. I told her it was because I wanted to create art that could transport viewers to a place where they could obtain a knowledge and a hope that, upon their returning to their world, would allow them to change their world in a positive way. I still strive to do this with the songs I write. This quote of yours really stresses, to me, the power of story and the way it can change lives. Just like the way a dream can change the life of someone all in one night.
Luther’s quote about the darkness the demons cannot even penetrate
“The word is a sure shade and darkness, which the evil spirits however lofty they may be cannot look into.”
I like this quote a lot. I like that God can be darker than the demons, also the whole Idea that nothing is what it seems. I really get from Luther, now that your book has allowed me to look more closely at him, that he seems always up in arms amidst a battle of good and evil and constantly on the look out for deception. This also reminded me of one time when you were taking me to work (when I was working for the Berkeley Rep. Theater summer camp) and you and I were talking about Jesus and God and the Devil because I was feeling strong in the spirit after doing Godspell. Right before you dropped me off you said “Remember, though, if the devil ever visits you, he’ll come to you disguised as the Christ.”
God can be the worst devil!
This quote rang true with the previous quote I was talking about. Also it really helped the whole “being put through the School of Hell” idea sink into me. Our immense suffering is God playing a cosmic game of some kind that to us is a game for keeps. Our very lives depend on the game. And Death, the ultimate farewell that has been the terror of humankind since the dawn of time, is somehow an illusion we must surrender to in order to truly have Life. My mind was running wild by this point. I was asking myself the question: “What then is life?” and have I even experienced it yet? I’m no philosopher and my thoughts may sound existential. But I enjoy having thoughts like that because they fascinate me. So that quote and the quote about being put through the school of hell really drew me in. In fact I made a note in my note book to eventually write a song called “the school of hell”.
“You cannot understand God through Speculation but by experience”
I can tie this into a quote I recall from the end of your book. It spoke about how this “School of Hell”
Luther’s Theology of the Cross is a dramatic life story; One that could be predicted through different scenarios or scripture but can only be experienced. Also that in its occurrence there are dangers that pose threats to its completion like a despairing heart. If it goes beyond the despair Jesus felt in Gethsemane and the individual loses their faith that [then] God’s will cannot be completed. Or in the way that people need to ventilate and be a beast under their conditions rather then remaining stoic. And how the beast is what will help them get through the school of hell. I know I’m mixing passages, but I was relating these ideas to one another.
“He is the silver cup”
This quote helped me understand the Joseph story better then I’ve ever understood it. Especially the idea that when he asked his brothers “What deed is this that you have done?!” he was not asking them about the silver cup, but about what they had done to him so many years ago. His planting the silver cup in their bag and that being symbolism for him, and the irony of demanding repentance of his brothers (not for stealing a silver cup he had planted, but for stealing his youth, happiness, the happiness of his father and injuring his father’s faith) is something so Timeless. For some reason I could feel exactly how Joseph was feeling when I read these passages and I could almost see the mystery of God unfolding in his own eyes. I found myself asking the question. When will I be put through the school of hell? How is it that one finds favor with God and is called to carry out the holy mandate? In Joseph’s case he must be killed and lose all recognition then be raised to power as a new form (like the highest power in Egypt). It sure is fascinating. But something about how Joseph is the silver cup line really got me. It’s like he puts the silver cup in the bag (to frame his brothers) this is because he wants his brothers to repent, but it’s ultimately because he loves his brothers and he wants to give them his riches (the silver cup). It’s like objects to God can mean one thing (what they are) mean another thing (their opposite) and yet another thing (what they are once more but in a hidden form). For some reason, however, I couldn’t get over the sadness in Joseph’s eyes. Like this deed his brothers did to him really left a kind of scar that would forever remain on him. Maybe this is the mark of an anointed one and a Christ. They bare special stripes. The stripes of a sacrifice they made to be a chosen one of God. Though the end of Joseph’s story is a happy one, he’ll forever have a look I’ll always see. Tim Rice the writer for Jesus Christ superstar calls it having the look of a haunted hunted man. Now I’m ranting but you can see how much this passage of yours affected me.
Jacob’s relentless Faith
I loved the passage about how someone involved in the wrestling match at the river Jabbok could call the angel a demon and walk away with a life full of curses. But Jacob insisted on wrestling the Angel until it blessed him and thus his life was full of God’s blessings. I can see this being a metaphor for someone’s struggle with faith.
I really enjoyed reading your book, Pop. You should really publish it. I know lots of people would get a lot of joy from reading it. You could inspire many people. Hope you and Mom are well. All my love
February 10th 2010
I just had the time to read your notes and reactions to my book on Joseph. I really appreciate your reading it and struggling with some of its most difficult parts. I can also see that you are a writer. You already have natural style. I only got there after filling fifteen books with diaries! Let me react to just a few of your thoughts.
I think a song or story or dream that changes our lives, that creates a new reality for us can be called performative in a general sense. The idea being that God makes promises in our lives and then keeps them, even when they first begin with the opposite of what we wished, for example, four people coming to a concert! We can also use the word “performative” in a technical sense, where a speech act has to fulfill many requirements to be performative. I promise, command, forgive, etc. are examples. But I’m just clearing it up in my own mind and that is not really your concern.
You mentioned the “illusion of death.” You know the joke about Christian Scientists. The guy tells one that his mother is sick. “She thinks she’s sick.” the Christian Scientist corrects him. The fellow’s mother dies and he meets the Christian Scientist, who asks about the health of his mother and he says, “Oh, she thinks she’s dead.”
There is the illusion of death and there is spiritual death in Christ, after which we are raised up into the newness of life. But there is also biological death, where we still have the promise of eternal life. Even though death is very real, we can call it an illusion if we cling to Jesus’ word: “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26-26). We are merely translated into some marvelous existence that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor a heart ever been able to imagine.”
The School of Hell
I thought that going to Philadelphia would work. I said, “The only trouble with heaven is that you have to go through hell to get there.” I thought I could get through it. I found out that I was not able to take very much. If you accept abuse, then you become an accomplice to those committing their crime against you. So God does put us through the school of hard knocks or the school of hell, but it cannot be of our own choosing. Self-chosen suffering is a cop-out. It has to be the suffering that God decides for us, because it is God fashioning us for God’s purposes and we should not be choosing our own suffering for our own purposes. When God calls us, let God be God, and create us in the way God needs us for the purposes of salvation.
Making Friends with the Beast
I did Jungian therapy for many years and the point was to befriend the beast and that took place in my dreams. All sorts of monsters used to give me nightmares. They were all different encounters with the beast. The beast is our own incredible power externalized and attacking us. When we make friends with the beast, then it internalizes and becomes our creative energy and the powerful force of human love and compassion in our hearts.
Those are just a few reactions to your beautiful words.