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Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale Hardcover – October 26, 1977
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A sermon arises out of silence, preacher and writer Frederick Buechner reminds us, and that silence is both an opportunity and a warning. An audience sits in the pews waiting, and each of those who sit there bring with them a long and complicated history. How will you reach them? How will you awaken them? "Tell them the truth," Buechner says in this brief and powerful book. The Gospel begins here, out of this silence: "It is life with the sound turned off so that for a moment or two you can experience it not in terms of the words you make it bearable by but for the unutterable mystery that it is." Out of this silence, he writes, the "real news comes, which is sad news before it is glad news and that is fairy tale last of all."
This series of lectures explores these three ways of seeing the Gospel: first as tragedy, as honest sorrow and suffering--this must be faced before anything else becomes possible. From this comes the comedy of new life: a child born to Abraham and Sarah in old age, Lazarus raised from the dead. This is the folly of the Gospel--what Buechner will ultimately call the fairy tale. Drawing deeply from the well of The Wizard of Oz and other stories, he reminds us in this final chapter that "there is a child in all of us," a child in touch with a truth deeper than the logic of tragedy. --Doug Thorpe
"The same stylistic power, subtlety and originality that have distinguished Frederick Buechner's novels lift Wishful Thinking far above commonplace religion books nearly to the level of C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters. An artist is at work here in the vineyard of theology, a wit with wisdom."-- "The New York Times Book Review""A beguiling book .... Buechner handles difficult subjects (eternity immortality prayer) with a casual aplomb and easy analogy"-- "Time""Thoughtful, spirited, entertaininga dictionary for doubtersand restless believers." -- "Chicago Tribune""Original, pungent and joyful." -- "The Christian Century"
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Chapter two presenting the gospel as tragedy Buechner addresses the Real Absence using Jesus in Gethsemane and at the cross, and also Elijah. And then this with Job: "It is out of the absence of God that God makes himself present, and it is not just the whirlwind that stands for his absence ... but God is absent also from all Job's words about God, and the words of his comforters, because they are words without knowledge that obscure the issue of God by trying to define him as present in ways and places where he is not present, to define him as moral order, as the best answer man can give to the problem of his life. God is not an answer man can give, God says. God himself does not give answers. He gives himself ..."
With the gospel as comedy in chapter three he begins with Sarah having Issac in old age. He then goes into Jesus using parables as "holy jokes" that no one got, and towards the end summarizes: "God in his unending greatness and glory and man in his unending littleness, prepared for the worst but rarely for the best, prepared for the possible but rarely for the impossible. The good news breaks into a world where the news has been so bad for so long that when it is good nobody hears it much except for a few. And who are the few? ... The ones who labor and are heavy-laden like everybody else but who, unlike everybody else, know that they labor and are heavy-laden. ...They are the ones who are willing to believe in miracles because they know it will take a miracle to fill the empty place inside them where grace and peace belong with grace and peace. ... Maybe the truth of it is that it's too good not to be true."
A few quotes from the final chapter with the gospel as fairy tale: "Maybe the first thing to say is that it is a world full of darkness and danger and ambiguity." Another one: "Not only does evil come disguised in the world of the fairy tale but often good does too." And then I especially like how he brings out the wonder of the gospel: "The preacher as apologist instead of fabulist tries as best he can to pare it down to a size he thinks the world will swallow."
Really good stuff to chew on in this book.
Soren Keirkegaard noted an irony in his own era: There may be one or two real poets born to any generation, but anyone my become a preacher by simply passing a test. Fredrick Buechner is more than a minister; he is a poet of this generation, gifted with a perspective that teaches not just what to see, as many preachers do, but how to see it in ways only a poet can. I consider him one of my fathers in the faith and his writings have had a large role in preserving my own faith. I hope you enjoy him as much as I do and this book is a great place to start.