Grievance is the source of all interesting prose. Without grievance, a writer tends to become a celebrant, which is an agreeable but repetitious state. (Neil Postman, Conscientious Objections, p. xi)
I agree with Postman. Poetry may spring from a feeling of content, but great prose comes from at least a sense of dissatisfaction (if not legally actionable grievance). Even not-so-great prose (like most doctoral dissertations) starts with a question that the candidate does not feel has had a satisfactory answer. Even terrible prose begins with a sense of discontent. My shopping list, for example, shows that I am not happy with my household supplies of eggs, laundry detergent, and toilet paper.
It should then follow that, as much of the Bible is prose, and most Christians find that prose to be interesting, there is probably some kind of grievance, complaint, dissatisfaction behind much of what we accept as Holy Scripture. At least if Postman is right. I think he probably is.
It’s obvious that some things–like 1 Corinthians 13, the great hymn to Christian love–are definitely more aspiration, and express Paul’s frustration that the church is not quite behaving in particularly Godly ways. Why else tell people what “love” looks like, if they are already demonstrating that they know? The prophetic literature of the Old Testament is certainly not written from a place of everything being the way the Israelites would like. The stories of the Exodus are surely telling the story of Israel in Egypt the way Israel would like it told–as opposed to how someone less sympathetic to runaway slaves might narrate it. These are the “interesting prose”–prose that provokes thought, spins out further reflection, is memorable. The prophetic literature and the stories of the Exodus from Egypt and into the Promised land have inspired great art, music, further literature. They speak of particular dissatisfactions which have translated into more universalizable grievances.
The less-great prose of the Bible–and here, I think of the genaeologies in the Pentateuch–have not inspired much reflection. Probably because they don’t have enough underlying tone of being pissed off enough for anybody to care much.
So, today, I start on a re-reading of the Bible (probably in KJV, because that is on my Kindle and easily portable), reflecting on what seems to have the most grievance behind it. I don’t intend this to be scholarly commentary, and I don’t intend to refer to Biblical scholars. I’m trying to recapture a love of scripture because over the last few years, I’ve lost that–and preaching in the churches hasn’t helped me to bring it back.
I’ll share bits of scriptural grievance as I go along. I may enter the story lectio divina style, and try to imagine myself as the writer, identify what has aggravated me to write this particular thing in this particular way.
I hope it will be an interesting journey through familiar territory.