Philophronesis. That is fluff, theologian Tom Long said today in Victoria. Long was deconstructing biblical text and showing the audience where some fluff can be found in the New Testament. It was all in the service of finding the core message.
He was talking to a group of ministers, church adherents and members, and hundreds of religiously oriented people –Catholics and Presbyterians and United Church and more. Some Came from across Canada and even the US for a conference in BC.
Even the Highly rarified world of theological scholasticism recognizes that wordiness still needs to be waded through.
Scholar Tom Long was talking about the power of the New Testament. In particular he was looking at the Epistles… a collection of letters Written by the apostles to various small churches at the time.
Long introductory passages and the long passages near the end show where the writers tried hard to up lift the context of their communication. Lots of compliments, lots of stroking the church members. Philophronesis. A response to the Challenge of conveying on the page what you really want to Communicate, which is a pat on the shoulder and a warm smile, Acceptance and love. Hence, verbal fluff.
As an editor and writer, it gives me another perspective for looking at wordy writing. Maybe it’s not always necessary to be as succinct as possible. On the other hand when a writer is generating lots of fluff, often an emotional component is delaying them from getting to the point.
Scholarship has its traveling memes and one of them over the last number of years has been narrative, an interest of mine. Consideration of narrative has leaked across many disciplines, so the study of narrative has also been part of theology the last number of years.
Long said something interesting yesterday about Narrative. Since the Civil War, Long said, there have been three waves of religious movement that have revived the study and use of narrative.
Each new wave of narrative arises in response to rigid orthodoxy, Said Long. I read that to mean that narratives function as a path to freedom. The poet, the balladeer, the lyricist, the playwright, and the writer all create as a way to find that path.
Apparently, in one of the Epistles, between the layers of fluff, Paul was gently admonishing church members not to gossip, not to carry tales. Long Explained it as a reminder of the sanctity of everyday speech.
The stories I tell myself, the stories I tell my friends and family, the stories I write – these fall far short of the realm of sanctified speech. Oh yes, I would love to be able to create peace and kindness Around me. That is telling a kind of truth-Story. Sometimes that is the kind of truth-story that brings freedom.
Sometimes it is only cutting through the fluff, the “niceness,” and digging up the cold hardness of a narrative that brings freedom.
We all want that true story.