The Box as a Stage for Parables in Godly Play: An Act of Concealed Interpretation

By Jeremy Clines

To offer stories, week-by-week, to children, as if they are biblical narratives, when what is offered is a smaller amount of biblical material framed within a much longer theological narrative conceals the act of interpretation. The ‘Parables’ section of the curriculum of ‘Godly Play’ achieves this by synthesizing selected biblical material, plus one text from the Midrash into a consistent format. Berryman’s ‘Parable of Parables’ seeks to both explain something of the what, why and how of the reframing of biblical narrative, and perhaps through it provides a defence of the structuralist approach of Godly Play.

By, literally and physically, boxing the stories up to provide the same pattern of translation and providing a ‘parable of parables’ to explain why the boxing has taken place and what interpretation is, meaning has been fixed. This example of biblical performance raises questions about whether re-packaging biblical text conceals from participants what is being encountered. Change occurs when text is performed since “all translation is interpretation, meaning that translators decide what the source text means and then try to transfer that meaning into new words […] all translation is political, […t]herefore, we must pay close attention to the way that biblical language functions within church contexts and more broadly” (Bryan Bibb, 2014: 340, “There’s no sex in your violence: Patriarchal translation in Ezekiel 16 and 23” _Review and Expositor_ 2014, Vol. 111(4) 337–345). Within these ‘Parables’ much is concealed and something is also disclosed about the intention to undertake biblical translation.

What may arise from this is a new set of questions for the storyteller, which parallels Torah teachers, experience of ‘confusion, embarrassment, and internal contradictions’ (Sigal Achituv, 2013: 294, “What Did the Teacher Say Today? State Religious Kindergarten Teachers Deal With Complex Torah Stories”, Journal of Jewish Education, 79:3, 256-296). Placing an invisible text, inside a golden box, inside numerous white boxes explicitly shows something complex is taking place.

The poster presentation will identify that this research is underway. The visit to the Godly Play European Symposium is as an act of action research to gain ideas for what remedies can be put in place within the Godly Play spiral curriculum to make more explicit how adults may curate the child’s experience of biblical reception. The final purpose of the poster about the research is to ask a wondering question: ‘I wonder what would happen if the parable and midrash were given, unboxed?’

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