When we kicked off this summertime series celebrating slice-of-life, I ended my introduction with the hope that over the weeks to come, we’d be able to highlight the heart of God in this humble genre, and maybe even convince you that he loves slice-of-life too. Well, I think my fellow writers have done a splendid job with the former, so now that we’re in our final week of posts, it’s time for me to make good on that second part. And I’m going to do so with a single word: parable.
Ok, a single, dramatic word and then a whole bunch more explaining what I mean by that word. But you get the idea! Without further ado, let’s dive deep into SoL one last time!
Most of Jesus’s public preaching took the form of parables, or short allegorical stories designed to convey a spiritual or moral truth, to paraphrase the Oxford English Dictionary. What’s more, most of these stories weren’t plot-heavy, action-packed shonen or seinen fair—apart from maybe the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Bad Tenants (which have enough violence and betrayal to give Tokyo Revengers a run for its money). Instead, they were overwhelmingly stories of everyday life.
Think about it: there are stories about planting and harvesting, tending crops, vineyards or orchards; there are yarns about fishing, tending sheep, and making wine; domestic episodes featuring bread-making, seasoning food, sewing, cleaning and keeping house; there are workplace sketches and anecdotes about investments and legal troubles; and let’s not forget the copious accounts of hosting and attending feasts, weddings and parties, as well as the happy tales of finding lost items, people, and hidden treasure. In short, Jesus’s parables are slice-of-life stories, where the likes of Katarina Claes and the casts of Slow Loop, Deaimon, I’ve Been Killing Slimes…, Planetes, My Senpai is Annoying, Pride of Orange and so many other favorites would be right at home.
In other words, parables and slice-of-life share in common the language of the everyday, or as sleepminusminus termed it, the ordinary.
Parables also contain deep spiritual truths, although they are wrapped up in an obscurity that can only be pierced by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Audiences must watch and listen with expectation and willing, teachable hearts in order to garner the meaning of these stories. Otherwise, they just seem to be too mundane to be significant, and are easily dismissed.
Sound familiar? This is basically what every post in this series has been about, and indeed, what Beneath the Tangles in general is all about! Seeking and finding the hidden treasure that is God himself at work in and through culture.
That’s all well and good, but how do we actually find that treasure buried in the field of slice-of-life? Maybe you’ve been reading along with this series of posts, losing your slice-of-life chill over this question. Let’s look to the parallel provided by parables again for some clues.
If we go beyond the dictionary definition and consider biblical parables themselves, we can add one more key feature to this kind of story-telling: parables convey spiritual truths that transform the listener’s perception of themselves, the world, and/or God. Parables change our positioning in the world.
They do this largely by focusing on identity, correcting and redefining who we think we are. Sometimes these corrections are confrontational, as when a parable bursts the bubble of the prideful, the prejudiced, and the hypocritical, like the parables of the Wedding Feast and the Good Samaritan. At other times, they are edifying, lifting the heads of the broken and discouraged by revealing their great value and worth in the eyes of the Father and significance in the world, as with the parables of the lost sheep, coin and son, and those that define believers as salt, light and a city on a hill.
To tap into the transformative power of parables though, we must ask two crucial questions, and we must be willing to be surprised by the answers.
The first is this: ‘Who am I in this story and what does that say about me?’ Sleepminusminus asks this of Slow Loop, and Josh, of Planetes and Aria.
The second is this: ‘What does this story reveal about who you are, God, and about your kingdom?’ Stardf29 asks this of isekai iyashikei series, and sleepminusminus of the slow arcs and happy endings endemic to slice-of-life. And I ask it too of Non Non Biyori and the escapism SoL offers.
But I also said we must be willing to be surprised by the answers when we ask these questions, and that’s a taller order. After all, there’s such a thing as confirmation bias, right? Of only seeing what we expect to see, or hearing what we expect to hear. So what is it then that opens our eyes and unblocks our ears?
Fortunately, Jesus answered this one for us when the disciples asked him about why he spoke in parables. Eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that understand are given by God. They are gifts! And as we know from the parable of the Friend at Midnight and the Persistent Widow, these gifts of perception are freely available to us when we ask God. He is the ultimate gift-giver.
So there you have it, the key to diving deep in slice-of-life is… asking for help. Just as we ask for Holy Spirit’s insight when we read the parables, and rely on God’s own wisdom in understanding his word, so too do we invite his help with every story we engage. And when we do, we discover whole new layers of meaning, and find those deep spiritual truths that otherwise so readily escape the ear and evade the eye.
In other words, it begins with humility and relationship. How fitting for such a humble, companionable genre, right?
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4 thoughts on “Summer of SoL: Slice-of-Life as Parable”
So, I know that parables generally have a lesson behind them and a hidden truth, but do you think it’s fair to say that the stories themselves sometimes don’t make sense? I was always confused about the parable where the woman found a lost coin and then celebrated, as any celebration would cost more than the value of the coin she found.
Haha! 😀 It’s true that sometimes they don’t make sense to us today in modern Western culture, but that’s because we’re missing the crucial contextual information. Back in the day, coins were the only form of currency, and this particular coin, a silver one, would have actually been worth about $1200 US in today’s money, according to scholars. It was, needless to say, a particularly valuable coin — not just a quarter or something! Similarly, a celebration in that context could have been something as simple as providing bread and drink and maybe some fruit or something, which wouldn’t have been too costly. So it does make practical sense, when we know the historical context.
So, as a cultural historian myself, I’d say that actually, if we look into the historical context, we find that the parables all make practical sense too — only sometimes it has gotten lost over time and with the transfer to a Western, mostly urban perspective.
There’s a great book I’d recommend on this topic too actually, ‘Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible’, by Brandon J. O’Brien and E. Randolph Richards.
Thanks for the context on that. It was something that always bothered me but I felt commenting on it would feel pedantic and off-topic so I never brought it up. I will check out the book too.
Dude, I *love* pedantry. Sometimes being pedantic about scripture is exactly the thing that unlocks all these cool new layers of significance! As far as I’m concerned, be as pedantic as you like! Questions are good.