Martin W. Bender
Tell it Slant is a discussion of the language used by Jesus to talk to the people around him and to his Father in heaven. He used everyday language, common language, the language of bedtime stories and business meetings, the language of the classroom and the playground. Jesus spoke like a regular guy, because in some ways, many ways, that’s exactly who he was. It would be a mistake, though, to think of Jesus as just a regular guy, because he was so much more than some spiritual feller with a beard reshaping the Hebrew religion.
In Emily Dickinson’s poem Tell all the truth but tell it slant speaking cryptically is the way to tell the truth. She likens the truth to lightning which is fast, bright, and powerful, but is seldom gathered in. People are startled by it, caught off guard, and occasionally crushed by its fury. This is why we soften the blow of the truth. We teach children the glories of ethics and morality in fairy tales and fables because they make the truth more palatable, they slow and dim the lightning so everyone can take a good long look at the truth. “The truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.” This is precisely how Jesus spoke.
Peterson’s Tell it Slant explains how Jesus’ speech was so wonderfully different from what one might expect. His ability to teach meant he was welcome in the synagogues and the temple, but he didn’t talk like the other teachers of his day. While his colleagues constantly sourced their material in a flood of verbal citations to establish authority, Jesus spoke authoritatively. Like those first papers written freshman year, full of fire but lacking footnotes, Jesus spoke the truth and the people listened.
Stories are a language all their own. It was in this language Jesus did much of his teaching. So often parable favored lecture even when the people asked for a graduate course. At one point Jesus shares his motivation for teaching in this way. He does it so people can be ever hearing, but never understanding. What kind of teacher teaches that way? Jesus does.
Jesus’ style forces participation or frustration. The listener either dwells in the story with the shepherd, woman, and father seeking what is lost or they become lost themselves. Jesus invites those around him to join in celebration, but too often they are seeking something more familiar than the rejoicing of angels. They desire the esoteric and high over the common and lowly. Think about how ridiculous that would be to Jesus, who left the highest position in favor of the lowliest. Ever hearing, never understanding sums it up pretty well.
Tell it Slant is a walk through the parables of Luke and the prayers of Jesus. The walk isn’t rushed though. Like Jesus and his story telling style, Peterson slows the pace down, inviting the reader to look around and explore like when hiking. There is a destination, but it’s ancillary, the point is the journey. Out and back, out and back. Rehashing the same stories over and over, but they never become stale. They are always fresh because they are always true and we enjoy them over and over.
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On the shelf
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling
On Christian Doctrine, Augustine
Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller
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