Resource/Wipf and Stock, Eugene, 60 pages
Reviewed by Todd Jenkins
Our age of increasing polarization and division – via culture, politics, economics and countless points in between – offers neither welcome nor a clear path toward civility and mutual forbearance. Still, there are those of us who hold out hope for institutional religion – or at least a seriously engaged practice of faith – to be illumination on the path toward our return to the recognition and valuing of our common humanity. Andrew Walton’s book offers just such traveling light, with a creative exploration of Jesus’ life through his scripturally recorded parables.
Key to his method is Walton’s understanding of story. Like him, I have become increasingly convinced that story is the fundamental building block of human existence. We define and differentiate ourselves by the stories we remember and recite. More importantly, however, and often overlooked in our sound-bite-driven society, our shared narratives are the threads by which our familial and cultural bonds are woven.
“Hidden in His Own Story” dares readers – both those unfamiliar with the Bible and those who believe they are all too familiar – to rediscover self and neighbor through a straightforward form of narrative immersion. It encourages us to view both the person of Jesus and the faith community founded by his earthly followers through the lens of a personalization of parables. We are invited to understand the unique blend of Jesus’ humanity and divinity by imagining the parables he told not just as instructive generalities illustrated through common cultural life, but as primal stories from Jesus’ own life.
Taking cultural and familial background information found or implied in the four gospels, Walton constructs plausible scenarios and tells them in concise, powerful narratives that are interspersed throughout Jesus’ life, from which a number of parables could have been sourced. Readers who have not been exposed to the Gospels will find this book to be a lively and accessible entry point to Scripture. Those who have Gospel familiarity will appreciate new angles from which to view the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, the Laborers in the Vineyard, the Crucifixion and 12 more stories.
Walton’s purpose is not to posit that any of his imaginings are historical, but to help us open a window to our own storied souls through which we might deepen both our self-awareness and our cultural connections. Seeing Scripture’s parables as historically rooted in Jesus’ past does more than secure the stories’ anchor – it also gives us both pause and permission to examine the application and implication of the narratives by and through which we live and breathe.
I found this book to be a refreshing summons toward a hopeful future we so desperately need. In daring to accept the author’s invitation, readers will likely find themselves reexamining their own life chronicles, in consideration of how their most deeply embedded narratives serve as both foundation and interpretation for self, as well as for our interactions with culture and community.
In journeying into your own sacred story, through this book and the parables it calls you to reimagine, you will not only remember and relearn Scripture in more connectional ways, you may also feel the transformative power of the divinely inspired story remembering you, which can open the door to more healthful and hopeful ways of being human.
TODD JENKINS is a poet-pastor, currently living and ministering in the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee.