Have you seen the bumper stickers that proclaim, “My other car is… a Cadillac” or fill in the blank? It could say anything, lots of versions of that statement. My other car is…a boat, my other car is a junker. I don’t really have another car, although it is true, both of our family vehicles are Fords.
It’s really about writing. Pretty sure I found my “voice” in my first creative writing class in college. (Late bloomer, 1997) It has gotten a lot of exercise in the year since I started my blog, but my “voice” has also had ten years of graduate and post graduate studies, and many more years of writing sermons and newsletter notes, a life time of story telling, and something else, “my other car.”
My “Other Car” I started writing and performing (biblical) character monologues in worship in the fall of 2008. It started with one simple question that I learned to ask in my later years in seminary: “If this person could speak for herself, tell us about her life, what might she say?”
For instance, if you are familiar with the Bible story of The Samaritan Woman (John 4:1-42) you have probably heard numerous preachers or Sunday School teachers say that she was immoral (she was married five times and lived with a man who was not her husband)!
Some cite as proof of her immorality the fact that she went to the well at noon, at the hottest part of the day, when she had the least opportunity to run into anyone from the community. However, the way homes were built in those days, in an almost cul-de-sac fashion, with shared cooking areas, it is not likely she could have left her home without being observed at any point in the day. That argument, does not hold water.
The Well Have you ever started to make a cake or a casserole, or embark on some other project, only to realize at the outset that you are missing a key ingredient? You leave everything lay, grab your car keys and wallet and make haste to the store. I can think of several different reasons the woman may have needed (more) water in the middle of the day.
Jesus does not accuse her of sin, or immorality, rather he touches on an important fact of her life. For instance, there was a practice in biblical times called “Levirate marriage.” In Levirate marriage, a man could be required to marry his brother’s widow and to provide her with a child, in the name of the deceased brother. Marriage was social security for women. It is possible to imagine a situation where a widow or divorced woman might need to seek the security of another marriage or relationship consecutively.
Recently, a United Methodist preacher, writer whom I respect, referred to The Samaritan Woman as being divorced five times. It is possible, even remotely, but women in that time and place did not have the power to divorce men and all a man had to do to divorce his wife was to simply say, “I divorce you.” If she was divorced five times, it was not likely that she initiated it; in any event her situation speaks more to personal sorrow than shame.
God Talk Some writers and preachers cite the fact that when Jesus got too close to the truth of her life, she tried to distract him by talking about the Temple and proper location for worship. That makes me saddest of all. Why is it so difficult to say, the Samaritan woman was engaging in a theological discussion? She was talking with God about God.
Have you ever played that game when someone asks, “If you could talk to anyone in history, who would it be?” Have you ever had the joy of talking with someone you trust and admire about the most important aspects of your work or hobby, knowing that they understand? Or have you ever attempted to question your faith, only to be told that you were out of line?
Here she was, this Woman at the Well, and she asked questions about The Messiah, about Worship and Jesus did not treat her with contempt, he talked with her! It was a conversation; a holy conversation.
Why is it one seldom hears a sermon that says, ‘Jesus revealed himself to her as the Messiah, when he said those amazing “I am” words, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (John 4:26). How often is she credited for being the first woman to announce the Good News about Jesus (John 4:29)? For centuries, it has been easier to dismiss her as immoral, and cagey.
So how does this work? I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. But when we open the pages of our Bibles, we enter into a world and culture that is vastly different than the world we live in. We cannot help to bring our own twentieth and twenty-first century assumptions to the reading of the text. Those assumptions come from a variety of places; sermons and Vacation Bible School memories, Hollywood movies, what we have always thought, even if we cannot identify the source of those thoughts.
I try to work my way backwards through those things to the basic story, like a “story archeologist” carefully identifying and gently sweeping away the assumptions that have stuck to the story, to get to the central character and narrative as it is told in Scripture. I don’t change the text, but try to add information that comes from a variety of biblical disciplines.
For instance, many characters in the Bible are not named. It is probably true of more women than men. Sometimes, I give a character a name. For instance in writing a story about Simon Peter’s wife, it seemed reasonable to give her a name. In another case, rather than giving the character a name, I had the character say to the congregation, “you probably would not be able to pronounce my name. Freely translated it means ‘She who was meant to be cherished.’
Why do I write these stories? I have witnessed several presentations of character monologues that played fast and loose with facts, perhaps in the effort to make the characters relatable and up to date. I understand, but the nerd in me just cringes. I like fiction, I do, but I always want to know where things come from. I want footnotes and a bibliography!
I write to clarify white-washed stories, to replace caricature with character, to relate to them and God’s action in their lives. In writing, I try to interweave the best biblical scholarship available to me, that helps explore the daily life situation of the character, all the better to see God at work in the story.
I believe that it is possible to tell stories that are authentic to the biblical text and context of the character, and at the same time to blend some humor and pathos. When my characters come to church to visit and tell their stories, crossing boundaries of time and space, some poetic license is needed.
Biblical Storytelling For me, these character monologues are a form of biblical storytelling. Biblical storytelling takes many forms, and it is nothing new. As early as the third or fourth centuries, authors and artists have sought to tap into the drama in the Biblical narrative to help people learn the stories and connect with them. Broadly, I would include stained glass windows, music, poetry, painting and other art forms that focus on the biblical narrative as forms of Biblical Storytelling.
Another favorite form of biblical storytelling comes from the Network of Biblical Storytellers. Their focus is on learning to tell Bible Stories by heart. I try to do that on average once a month, but sometimes I procrastinate. When I write a monologue, I still have to learn it in order to present it, even though I wrote it. Both forms of storytelling are embodied and incarnational and lively. Most of the feedback I have received over the years has affirmed the effectiveness of the art. I try to not do monologues more than three times a year, so that the format does not get old.
Why I started this blog Because the memoir stories of home, my parents and Onset Beach burned in my heart, and imagination, bubbled up inside me and I felt like I would burst if I did not write them. But I also started the blog because I would very much like to publish a book with my character monologues, and scripts. I believe that other pastors or drama teams could perform them in worship. It is hard to get a publisher’s attention without a “platform” and blogging is a platform.
Most of my characters are women, as one friend calls them “my girls”. I have written scripts for St. Nicholas, at least three different stories for Mary, the Mother of Jesus. My favorite character was Miriam, the sister of Moses. I have also written scripts for Queen Vashti (the Queen before Esther), Rahab the Prostitute, Gomer, the wife of Hosea and many others. Most recently, I wrote and presented a visit from an unnamed woman, who was a passenger on the Mayflower, for a special Thanksgiving service. It wasn’t the sermon, but it was in every sense the message. Just to give you an idea of the cast of characters.
Okay, Michele, which is your favorite “car?” The honest answer is both. I think my writer’s “voice” is consistent in both forms, and probably my pastor’s voice is in there too, in both places. I made a conscious choice to do a blog that was memoir, not specifically religious; but I bring my whole self to writing the blog, a love of scholarship, creativity, humor, honesty, faith in God, deep longing for home, and a passion for telling stories.
Blogging Anniversary One year ago today, I wrote the introduction, set up my Word Press Account and hit Publish. I shook with fear, excitement and hope, and did so the first several posts I published. This blogging adventure has brought so much more than I ever expected; new relationships and friendships, learning opportunities, a deeper understanding of life in other countries in this time of COVID. Because of the rich variety of bloggers I follow and have come to know, I want to name them, but would forget someone important. But if you have been reading my posts and I have been reading and commenting on yours, then you know who you are. My deepest thanks for your encouragement, example and community.
Not holding back the tide,
Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com
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