Family Narratives

I realize that I’ve been off the grid for a while. I’m smack-dab in the middle of a two-week class on Isaiah at PBU. More on that later; this is my first attempt at teaching a full three-credit course on the main campus, and I’ve only had a month to prepare (while traveling to IL for a week and still working full-time).

You can imagine that many of my recreational activities have been pushed to the back burner. But I’ve been saving up a few ideas for posts, and I’ve decided to indulge myself briefly on a relaxing Saturday evening.

—–

Last month we were in Illinois visiting my wife’s extended family.  My mother-in-law’s folks are mostly in the Chicago area, while my father-in-law hails originally from central IL.  Our first two days were spent northwest of Chicago, making brief visits to Claudia’s cousins and old family friends.

One of the cousins had been doing quite a bit of research on the family history: collecting stories, dates, genealogical information, pictures, etc.  She had known that their grandfather (thus, my wife’s great-grandfather) immigrated from Prussia prior to WWI, but she had tracked down the exact town, which is today part of Poland.  Apparently, prior to living in this town the family was from Lithuania.

A long discussion ensued at the dinner table about the borders of the Prussian Empire and the regions of northeast Europe under Russian and German control, as well as a Wikipedia quest to discover the ethnic and sectarian origins of the family denomination (United Church of Christ).

Someone asked Kathy why she didn’t sit down and write a Wallies (or, “Wallyes”) family history.  “Oh, I don’t know if I could ever do that,” she responded.  “I would feel sort of presumptuous, telling the family stories in a certain way.  Plus,” she added, “It would make it seem like the story is complete–but it doesn’t really ever end.”

I meditated on her sentiments as the five of us piled into the rented Towncar on our way to the next family cluster.  I admired her desire to preserve the family stories, as well as her trepidation at the prospect of telling The Family Story.  It’s not that the cousins would contest her portrayal of the family; they’re an easy-going clan.  But it is something that cannot be done lightly or easily.

Today I worked on Isaiah 40-55 for my Isaiah class.  I did quite a bit of reading and note-taking from Patricia Tull Willey’s dissertation, published by SBL in 1996 as Remember the Former Things: The Recollection of Previous Texts in Second Isaiah.  Willey explains how Deutero-Isaiah acknowledges, respects, and yet reapplies themes and motifs from Lamentations, Jeremiah, enthronement psalms  and the exodus narratives, in order to tell a new story of imminent restoration during the Babylonian exile.  The prophet strikes a careful balance of reverence and reinterpretation as he encourages the exilic community to once again trust that YHWH is king of the whole world–over against Marduk, Bel and Nebo.

Stories are powerful.  The past tells us who we are and where we are going.  Those who are able to write history control the future–and the present.

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About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, exiled to the land of Phillies fans…an Old Testament professor and former liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth…eldest sibling to three, brother-in-law to Josh and Hannah…uncle to Marshall.
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