Not Really About the Shroud

The last few days have been kind of a circus maximus on the Shroud front. Nathan was interviewed yesterday for ABC World News Tonight, and the piece showed again on Good Morning America this morning. The Associated Press article went out today, so there should be a number of notices in newspapers around the country. NPR is tomorrow, and this weekend Nathan will be appearing on television in Hungary. So right now it looks as though Nathan will be using up his entire allotment of Andy Warhol’s promise of fifteen minutes of fame.

So the whole thing has been a lot of fun for us, and of course we are very grateful to God. I have been asked if I am proud of Nathan, and the answer is that we are completely proud of him. But in the midst of our gratitude, we also have to note that this whole situation goes far beyond that. Much larger issues are in play here. I feel like it was the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, game at stake, two outs, full count, and Nathan was at bat. Of course the setting is one where you expect to be proud of your son for a solid base hit that wins the game. But in this scenario it was as though Nathan took a swing, the ball went thirty miles and landed in another state. We have moved out of good baseball, and may have to consider whether other things are going on here.

The Shroud issue is therefore not really about the Shroud at all. The issue is story, learning to think in terms of story, learning to have the narrative of Scripture shape how you see yourself and the world around you, and learning to see yourself as a character in the story. Story is not meaningless and optional like the modernist thinks, and it is not meaningless and inescapable like the postmodernist thinks. The absolute God of Scripture reveals Himself to us in story. The Son of God wrote Himself into the story and redeemed both us and the plot line.

He invites us to learn how to think as He does. He has given us examples to follow. He has laid out some of the key principles. But His thoughts are not like our thoughts, and it takes us a long time to get our minds around that “first will be last” stuff. And when we start to get it, it can still fade in and out on us.

Because of this, one of the greatest blessings of my life is that God has given me kids whose minds all have the quirky gladness of G.K. Chesterton, which is in my mind the very definition of joyful sanity. It was no accident that caused Nathan to put the problem of the Shroud into a Father Brown dialogue. It is not that Nathan’s “brain is in backwards,” as one friend recently joked. The gift is to look at the world fresh and see it for what it actually is — a glorious story, written by an infinite Author. This Author is also infinitely competent, and everything is there to be noticed. Everything is there for a reason, if for no other reason than to have us note that we do not know the reason. One time, when Nate was in graduate school at St. John’s in Annapolis, he had had a long seminar in which the students spent a great deal of energy thrashing about with Immanuel Kant. Afterwards, Nate came home to his apartment, and found a frog on his front sidewalk. He did what any young graduate student should do in such circumstances, and took the frog inside and played with it in the sink for a half an hour or so. He was seeing the frog, and later on the phone, he told me this. “Dad, I think I understand Kant. But I don’t get the frog.” The first will be last, and the last first. And, in the case of the Shroud, the simple will be complex, and the complex simple.

I know that this might strike some as more Zen Puritanism, but in my mind it is basic to the joy the gospel brings. So the Shroud thing is fun, but it is just a very small part of the world. And God in His goodness invites us to look at the whole world this way. Further, the whole world rewards us when looked at this way. After all, this is Holy Week, our annual commemoration of the time when God raised His Son from the dead, surprising everybody. Who would have thought of that?

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