There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.
When I lived in Boston, and even in Connecticut, I used to use public transportation a lot. Buses, trains… and I really loved the opportunity it gave me to read. Living in Maine, I kinda have to drive everywhere, and the police tend to frown on drivers balancing a novel on the steering wheel going down Route 1. Even a Stephen King!
It’s actually a piece of my life that I really miss, living here. Some people get carsick reading in a moving vehicle, but I always found it really nice. Peaceful. So I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to audiobooks on long drives. Someone with decades of vocal training narrates your novel du jour straight into your earholes, and you can keep your eyes on the road the entire time. Which I’ve found helps.
I’m a big fan of fiction. I like to disappear into made-up stories and characters and worlds, especially when doing something as boring as driving on the Interstate. But I also dig those moments when I learn valuable lessons.
I’ve recently been working my way through M.J. Arlidge’s Detective Helen Grace novels (content warning; reader discretion advised), and the writing and characters really pull you into the minds and life experiences of a number of different women who have suffered abuse and trauma in their lives. Not being a woman, or someone who has personally experienced anything on the level that these characters have, these works of fiction are allowing me to see different sides of issues, emotions, and choices that I rarely have direct exposure to. And I think it’s helping me both as a pastor and as a man.
The reason I thought of this when I started tapping out The Oasis today is because of the Book of Job. Job originated as a fable from the ancient world, which someone long ago adapted as a part of Hebrew Scripture. Job in the Bible is written as basically the perfect human with the perfect faith and the perfect life, someone we as readers (or listeners) can all aspire to be. Or at least be like. And because we want to identify with Job, his journey through suffering and loss at the hands of fantastical forces is all the more powerful to us. We can try to imagine what we might do in Job’s position… and we get a glimpse at the flaws of the “perfect” man. And through putting ourselves into the shoes of Job—even though he may be from a different place, time, socioeconomic status, or gender than us—we have the opportunity to learn so many lessons from his experiences. Lessons we could never learn from some philosophical treatise or academic paper.
It’s why I love Jesus’ parables, and it’s why I turn up the volume on my audiobooks during those long drives. In the words of Stephen King: “Go then, there are other worlds than these.” Venture into those worlds, and see what surprises you bring back.
Exercise: Try to remember and write down a lesson from what was your favorite book (or story or TV show or radio play or whatever) when you were young. Maybe even one you didn’t learn then!
Prayer: Creator God, open my eyes to your wisdom you have hidden in the creations of others. Fill my heart with empathy and compassion, that I may walk safely in the life of another. Amen.
Song I’m listening to these days: “For What It’s Worth,” by Buffalo Springfield
Together, we can bring Christ's word and work to the world.