Sunday, February 14, 2016

How to Blow Minds at Book Clubs

We've all driven home from various book clubs (or some such gathering of progressive thinkers) and have said to ourselves, "Symbolism? Imagery? Metaphor? What? And here I thought it was just a cute romance."

Well, stew in your lack of intelligence no longer! Impress your peers by mentioning a book's "chiastic structure" (kahy-as-tik), and you'll have them choking on their quinoa cracker and brie in no time. (Who's going to beat themselves up on the drive home now?)

So let's see here. From what I understand, chiastic structure appears when concepts or words are repeated in reverse order. For example, take John F. Kennedy's famous quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." And, bam! Chiasmus.

Here's one that sums up my weekend: "Don't live to eat, eat to live." And many of us have heard: "It's okay to sweat the petty things as long as you don't pet the sweaty things."

But it's all fun and games until your life takes on a chiastic turn. It happened while subbing 10th grade history last week. I was walking across campus during a prep period when a security guy spotted me from a distance. He started toward me all gruff and tough, but then said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I was about to tell you to hurry up to class, but I see that you're an adult." And then it hit me smack dab in the middle of that line I really should get botoxed between my eyes: "She looks young from far, but she's far from young." Sigh.

But back to books. Sometimes an entire story, not just a single quote, has a chiastic structure - the Bible being a perfect example. Here it is, very loosely put, in a chiastic nutshell:

God created everything, and all was perfect. (Yay!)
Then we caused problems, and made things broken. (Boo!)
So God made it his problem, and took on our brokenness. (Boo!)
God then created us new again, and all will be perfect. (Yay!)

Notice my childish yay-boo-boo-yay pattern. (It helps to think like a kindergartener.) You could also fill in the chiastic a-b-b-a crisscross pattern of the Bible with something else: hopeful-hopeless-hopeless-hopeful or life-death-death-life. The point is, the bookends of history are insanely triumphant. God dwells with his children at the very beginning of the story. Then there are rough patches. Then he dwells with us again for all eternity when he "wipes every tear from our more death or mourning or crying or pain." (Revelation 21:3-4)

It's pretty deep stuff. But not only are you smarter now, hopefully you have gained a new perspective. As for showing off at your next book club by slipping the word "chiasmus" into a conversation, remember this: They're not going to care about how much you know until they know how much you care.

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