Jerry is an ordained minister of American Baptist Churches USA, having served as Intentional Interim Minister in the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as well. Currently serving as Intentional Interim Minister at Friedens Peace United Church of Christ in New Melle, MO. 1999 Graduate of Aquinas with Certificate in Spiritual Direction. Semi-retired, writing, offering spiritual direction.
I would really like to trade in my old narrative for a new model.
Let me explain. I make bold to advance this trade-in option because of the early Christian community’s example. It “traded in” the dominant Greek philosophical narrative, i.e. logos, or “word,” for a new model of logos filled with new meaning through Christ. Play with this for a moment, by substituting “narrative” for “word” in the preamble of John’s gospel:
In the beginning was the Narrative, and the Narrative was with God. And the Narrative was God. In the beginning with God, the Narrative began incarnating in Cosmos. (This sentence paraphrases John’s wording that says, “He was in the beginning with God.” I’m reading “was” as an active process of being and becoming – hence, “incarnating” – rather than a simple, passive state of existing in an ethereal, immaterial, eternal past.) It was through the Narrative that all things came into being, and without the Narrative, not one thing comes into being. What has come into being through the Jesus Narrative is Life, and this Life is Light for all people. The Narrative shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. . . . And the Narrative became flesh and lived among us … full of grace and truth.
Consider the power of narrative. Narrative forms us and moves us toward destiny, and destiny is defined and formed by the quality and character of the narrative. We all live in a narrative; in fact, we live by narrative. Before we opt into a particular narrative we do well to discern the destiny toward which the narrative is trending. If we desire a destiny of just peace, for example, is a narrative titled “global war on terror” actually going to deliver us there?
If we desire a destiny of personal and cosmic salvation, a narrative of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection titled “Resurrecting Our Crucified Humanness” may get us closer to it than the currently dominant atonement narrative titled “Satisfying God’s Offended Honor.”
Part of the power of a narrative is that it gathers our energies and resources, and focuses them, for good aims, or ill. Here are some quick examples of this from the broad American narrative, as articulated in a column in the New York Times by Timothy Egan, Dec. 7, 2010, titled A Big Idea. He is arguing that what is missing from the Obama administration and is seriously weakening its effectiveness is a big idea, a controlling, or shaping narrative. By contrast, Teddy Roosevelt crafted a narrative titled “The Square Deal.” The story line leveraged the interests and energies of the little guy to fight monopoly capitalism at a time when the gap between the rich and everyone else was almost as great as it is today.
Franklin Roosevelt expanded his cousin’s narrative with one titled “The New Deal,” which gathered “enough populist punch to help a New York politician with a moneyed accent” lead the nation through the Great Depression. Ronald Reagan countered middle-class anxiety with a narrative titled “Morning in America.” These national narratives altered the configuration of socioeconomic reality, thus changing near-term destiny.
At some point in our life journey, each of us will choose, if only by default, one or more personal narratives in which to navigate life’s road. But first, we inherit a narrative (actually, a kind of woven cable of several narratives; but for this essay the singular “narrative” will work). We wake up already wrapped in the swaddling cloths of some kind of narrative. This narrative is given to us through birth into a family, a community, a religion, a culture, a nation. Individuals often are not aware of what their narrative is, but it will move them, and it will shape them, aiming them toward a particular quality of destiny, unless and until they choose a different narrative.
At another level, especially in a mass communications culture dominated by entertainment values, Americans seem to flit among narratives like a butterfly seeking the sweet nectar of fragrant blossoms, or a teen-ager drifting dreamily from one over-priced boutique to another in marketing-induced fantasies of trendy fashion that they hope will somehow confer, at least temporarily, a shred of definitive significance.
Take our current political culture. The bus of political narrative seems almost to be careening out of control, much as the bus of economic narrative has done. While I want to trade in this political and economic narrative for a new one, it feels like someone is already imposing a new narrative on the nation, and perhaps the world, but they’re not telling the rest of us where the story is taking us. It’s happened before. Somebody knew the narrative of decline, for example, that big-box retailing was going to perpetrate on mom and pop retailers, fraying the fabric of community and neighborhood that these “little guys” sustained, but they didn’t tell us this when they started spinning out this narrative. Americans’ uncertainty and anxiety stem, in part, from a fundamentally shifting narrative.
But this isn’t the half of it. The trouble we have with our national, cultural, political, and economic narrative is rooted in a seriously compromised religious narrative. America would not be America without its religious narrative. I puzzle over the reasons why a culture so deeply influenced by Christian faith fails so often to embody public policy that is more in accord with the Christ figure so broadly revered, celebrated, and argumentatively defended. Why, in this “Christian culture’s” free-ranging lifestyles do we find such thirst for violence, such health-compromising self-indulgence, such persistent manipulation of fear, such broad immersion in addictions, and so many other symptoms suggesting that we don’t really trust, collectively, the faith narrative we say we believe?
Our faith narrative seems to be a damaged vehicle in need of repair, or salvage. The damage that concerns me is in three particular areas: Atonement narrative, Justice narrative, and Eschatology narrative. The dominant Atonement narrative, called the penal satisfaction theory and supported by its close cousin the substitutionary atonement theory, generally governs religious orientation in this culture. It tends toward spiritual escapism in the popular mind, and its individual salvationist aims seem more identified with American individualism than with just community. Furthermore, its aims are directed more heavenward than earthward.
This spiritual dysfunction of American faith narrative gives rise to a Justice narrative governing social discourse and expectation that is too comfortably lodged in the retributive dimension of justice, while discounting and even demonizing the distributive dimension of justice. Hence, the “Unamerican,” and even “socialism,” stigma that is suddenly attached to our honored one-hundred-year tradition of progressive income tax.
And then there is the great capstone of Eschatology narrative that posits the kingdom of God in the ultimate future, after human history is over, thus removing much of its transforming tension from the present. This also relieves the principalities and powers in this world of any responsibility for their damage to the present. And the gleam in the eye of some who see their culture war enemies being “left behind” in the great Eschatological Escape is almost obscene. Profound narrative distortion in these areas of faith is killing a lot of Christianity’s potential for kingdom of God influence in our culture in this world. And these distortions are standard fare in popular Christianity
Let me say a word here about kingdom. I’m sympathetic with the need for an alternative term, but words like “realm,” “rule,” and “reign” all seem weak, pale shadows of the potency contained in the reality to which kingdom refers. So, I’m going to ask that you indulge me in a preference for the word basileia, as in basileia tou theou, the New Testament Greek phrase for “kingdom of God.” The English term, “kingdom,” has obvious problems for 21st-century American democratic, egalitarian, inclusive culture.
John Dominic Crossan’s book, In Parables, offers a fresh perspective on basileia. He goes beyond all the traditional “kingdom” terms by positing basileia as an order of reality that none of these terms really articulates. Basileia, per Crossan, is God’s purposive, creative energy, poised to spring into action when the situation is ripe. Jesus’ parables are about basileia. Think of basileia as that with which Jesus’ parables are pregnant and about to come to term.
Shifting the metaphor now rather abruptly, according to Crossan’s concept, basileia is sort of like the baseball hitter, poised in the coiled-spring stance that awaits the opportune moment, as the baseball leaves the pitcher’s hand and begins its brief flight to the batter’s box. According to Jesus, this coiled-spring basileia energy, meeting a skillfully flung challenge of history and personal experience, is poised for advent, ready to break through in every moment, in every place, in every age. Will we, the batter, swing truly, or even see the ball coming?
What might our faith and this world come to be, if we gathered with others to train, practice, and play our faith in the way that baseball players do from the pickup game of kids on a sandlot to the early training of Little League to the disciplined professionalism of major league players, and including all the baseball fans who gather to watch, cheer, moan, revel in victory, and writhe in defeat? This is basileia, poised to break into this-world materiality – the kingdom-at-hand that Jesus urges us to turn and embrace. And it is this basileia quality that is embedded in a certain kind of narrative that has the potential to reinvigorate our faith narrative and to recover authentic Christian vision for justice in this world’s culture.
Part of the trouble we have with our political and cultural narrative is that our seriously compromised religious narrative posits kingdom of God as a celestial retirement center, rather than a terrestrial playing field on which there is poised a potency that is so near at hand that it would radicalize our practice of humanity if we dared touch it. It is here in our faith narrative, more than our political and cultural narratives, that we face the most profound challenges, because the religious narrative that is dominant in our culture is so little interested in a this-worldly, basileia quality of cosmic reality, compared to its interest in a next-world fulfillment of our favorite this-world ego-building projects.
So, here’s the big question: How might we infuse the larger political, cultural, and religious narrative with the Christic Light of Jesus? Answer: Engage the narratives that Jesus spun. Engage with “the parable Jesus” through “the Jesus parables.” And in the sparking energy of the Jesus narrative, engage the culture.
Jesus and Narrative. Many NT scholars make a convincing case for Narrative of the parable kind as being the bedrock material that can connect us acutely with the Spirit that animated and directed Jesus’ life. Not only this, Jesus’ parables are almost without exception about the basileia of God and can give entry into the culture of God’s basileia. The taming of Jesus’ parables and the domestication of the baseleia that the parables encapsulate may explain why the prayer we pray every Sunday – “thy kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven” – fuels so little passion for basileia’s justice on earth, and stimulates so little resistance to the growing narrative of all war all the time, or of wealth for the few and poverty for the many.
I am becoming convinced the longer I work with Jesus’ parables that these narratives can be a means of de-toxifying ourselves from addiction to the narratives of American culture. Jesus’ parables can be a force for the church’s liberation from captivity in the dominant cultural narrative. Even though, as in the parable of the talents, they have too often been used to create economically productive Americans rather than radically inventive reconcilers and passionately peacemaking disciples, Jesus’ parables can draw us into Narrative that is charged with dynamics of the basileia of God.
But for them to exercise their redemptive power, we will have to reclaim them from popular misuse. Parables can transform because they are more than cute little stories with a practical moral lesson or spiritual insight. Parables are more, too, than clever illustrations that simplify complex, abstract truths that we assume are really better explicated in vast theological tomes – or wordy essays about them like this one. Parables are more than verbal articulations of invisible, otherworldly, spiritual tonic that will enhance our ability to survive the rigors of striving for success in the American Way of Life.
To experience a parable of Jesus and not just hear it for its entertainment or instructional value is to find ourselves “living in a narrative and giving off sparks” (a phrase suggested by a certain tensive quality of fraught romance in Bonnie Tyler’s lyrics in Total Eclipse of the Heart: “Living in a powder keg and giving off sparks”).
Several parable scholars have consistently sparked fresh thinking for me over the years, and especially in the last few years: John Dominic Crossan, Bernard Brandon Scott, Joachim Jeremias, Charles McCollough, C. H. Dodd, Robert Farrar Capon, William Herzog, Marcus Borg, among others.
For Jesus, a parable is not just a story about an otherworldly ideal. It is his verbal representation of his experience, and more particularly, his experience of God. To make the incarnational point just a little more pointed, this is the God with whom Jesus engaged in his experience in this world. It is not just a fantasy concept about a God whom the pre-existent Christ left behind in heaven when he came to earth. So, if we find our way inside a parable of Jesus, we will encounter there not merely an idea of the God up in heaven but will encounter the same God in our life context with whom Jesus engaged in his earthly setting.
Let me take this a step further and say that if we hear a parable of Jesus and are not shocked, or disturbed, or moved, or otherwise transported into an alternative realm of being, we have not experienced the parable.
I once saw an amazing shot on goal in our eldest grandson’s high school soccer game (No, it wasn’t our grandson who made the goal … this time). The game was tight, near the end, with a score of 0-0. One of our players, Xavier, received a pass about thirty yards out, as our team was moving the ball down the field and beginning to close in on the goal. Xavier eyed a teammate positioning himself to receive a pass, as the defending team marshaled their forces against what was clearly shaping up to be a shot on goal. Then, at the moment of what might have been a kick to the intended shooter the gap for a pass closed and the potential shooter was swarmed with defenders, so Xavier masterfully re-directed his kick and hoisted the ball into the air. The ball soared, almost like an eagle in flight, arched over the heads of both teams and hooked amazingly toward the goal. With goalie’s gaze still fixed on the formerly anticipated play pattern, now abandoned, the ball passed over his head and sailed into the goal inches below the cross bar.
It was one of those stunningly unexpected moments of glory that draws us to sports events again and again, or really to any event of human achievement. You can imagine the effect on our team’s crowd. Xavier’s parents were sitting behind me, and we all erupted in loud cheers of joy and excitement and turned to exchange high fives with Dad and Mom. It was absolutely electric. (Our team won a couple of minutes later by a score of 1-0.) Not only does an incident of successful play like this generate excitement in an athletic contest, it also confers larger gifts: Confidence, affirmation of hard effort, confirmation of ability, hope for future effort, courage to risk.
God’s basileia is something like this shot-on-goal and the electric response it evoked. Jesus’ parables are charged with this kind of spiritual electric, this poised energy, ready to break through. We know we have really heard a parable when in hearing it we feel something like this spiritual charge sparking in us, or irrupting. It may not be so dramatic, but something will move in us, will shift, drawing us out of our inertness to spring into basileia movement, or perhaps to the contrary, send us fleeing from basileia into the safe room of our cultural comfort zone.
Eschatological Character of Parables. I have come to understand the parables, at least some of the key ones, as eschatological, but not in the conventional sense of eschaton as events that unfold at the end of history. Eschatology has to do with an ending of world, not just the end of this world. We did not experience the end of this world on 9/11, but we did experience an ending of a world. A world ends for an individual when a beloved life partner dies and a new configuration of life emerges. A world ends when the manufacturing sector picks up and moves from the U.S. to China and leaves communities all over the country faced with the need to reconfigure their life. Will someone, some group, attempt a spiritually charged, socioeconomic shot-on-goal at an individual level, a community level, a corporate level, and risk the possibilities in transformation?
What is peculiar about the eschatological in Jesus’ parables is that they have to do with the breakthrough of justice, i.e. fulfillment of God’s vision for human life, in this world. The breakthrough of basileia justice can bring about an ending of a world, or it can seize the opportunity in any world-ending experience, no matter how un-basileia-like the cause, to fashion new patterns of justice. The breakthrough of justice may occur at any time, not just at the “end times.” Thus, the eschatological dynamic in Jesus’ parables represents the sense of culmination that fulfills God’s purpose and character in a given historical moment, not just eschatological as chronologically final.
A Parable Example: The Absentee Landlord (a.k.a. The Wicked Tenants). Read Mark 12:1-8 (and this parable’s other iterations in Matthew 21-33-41 and Luke 20:9-18), and read Thomas 65.
Notice a couple of things about these iterations of the parable: (1) In Mark, as in Matthew and Luke, the gospel writer provides framing comments that are not intrinsic to the parable and likely were not attached to it when Jesus originally performed it. In Mark it is preceded by the question of Jesus’ authority and followed by interpretive commentary that some scholars believe is supplied by the gospel writer. The Gospel of Thomas, on the other hand, leaves the parable bare, simply tells it, without application, or framing, or interpretation. (2) The synoptic gospelers seem to be performing the parable in a particular historical setting that orients its meaning to the needs of the faith community in a very different context than that in which Christ originally told it. This can accrue added layers of meaning to the parable that put it at one remove, or more, from Jesus’ original thrust. So, how might the parable be experienced in its own right?
A New Image. Charles McCollough points out three levels of violence in this parable: Structural, rebellious, reactionary (Visualized on 3-sided relief sculpture in The Art of Parables, Copper House, 2008)
First scene: Landlord establishes his vineyard as cash crop, with sharecrop renters doing the work. Such a landlord was not a popular figure in a land where God was the owner and had made allotments to all with the expectation of an egalitarian, sustainable economy providing adequate benefits for all. However, now peasant land allotments were being confiscated to “join house to house, and add land to land.” (as in an earlier period – Isaiah 5) This was part of the design of the Roman imperial economy, the purpose of which was to form large estates for growing cash crops aimed at transferring the land’s wealth to an absentee, privileged elite. This system made the rich richer and more powerful and made the poor poorer and more disenfranchised. The real estate developments, marketing plans, and investment instruments for accruing and concentrating wealth were legal, if not just. What appears to be a resentful and even angry attitude by the tenant workers is not out of place.
Second scene: Not surprisingly, the tenant workers’ resentment flares into the rebellious violence that is natural for tenants who seek to regain their land. They beat the landlord’s agents, including his son, while the distant landlord is awaiting their contribution to his wealth.
Third scene: The third level of violence is the reactionary violence – the authorities are called in to crush the rebellion. This third level of violence exposes the cruelty of the first level, thus identifying the very foundation of the Roman empire and exposing the dominant consciousness that seeks to justify collaboration with this system among the subject peoples. Too often, the oppressed who react with violence are made the scapegoats and the villains. The landlord in his collaboration with an unjust system and its powers of enforcement is the villain in McCollough’s reading.
This reading would suggest that Jesus was not telling this parable against the Jews’ religion; he was telling it against the injustice of collaboration in an economic system that produced widespread poverty and powerlessness, while generating obscenely concentrated wealth and power. The point was not God’s intention to transfer the keys of heaven from the Jews to the Christians, or to remove his blessing from the old religion and confer it upon a new religion. The parable’s point was to transform the commonly accepted reliance on the various forms of violence and to ignite a passionate sense of justice that would put the powers that be on notice that they’d better get with the basileia program, or they would find themselves under siege by God himself. And if they think Rome’s exactions on behalf of power and privilege are something, wait till they encounter God’s exactions on behalf of compassionate justice with the poor and powerless.
All three synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) allegorize this parable to interpret it to the early church, making it a parable of next-worldly salvation: Landowner God sends his collection agents the prophets and his son Jesus Savior who are beaten and/or killed by the unfaithful Jewish leaders/tenants. Hence, God rejects the Jews and creates a new religion around their rejected Savior, who saves, by the way, by means of his passion, death, and resurrection, not by “the whole course of his obedience” (Calvin’s phrase), and thus certainly not by his passionate pursuit of compassionate justice in this life for all.
This churchy reading of the parable is too oriented to ecclesiastical interests – to institutional religion’s interests – and not enough to God’s interest in human justice. Perhaps God is more interested in conversion from self-aggrandizement to justice than from non-religious to religious, speaking of superficial religiousness, of course.
The Gospel of Thomas’s version of this parable gives it a non-allegorical cast, tells the story without interpretive overlays, suggesting that it may be closer to what Jesus actually told. Thomas concludes with the exhortation, “Now, you’d be well advised to listen up!”
Salvation Reading, or Jubilee Reading? While a salvation-history reading tends to give rise to allegory regarding the church’s replacement of Israel as “God’s people” bearing the gift of salvation for the next life, a Jubilee reading would concentrate the parable’s conclusion something like this: “This just goes to show why it is necessary to enact the Year of Jubilee every fifty or so years. Sinful human nature requires that the social, political, and economic arrangements be re-shuffled and re-fashioned on some orderly pattern to assure egalitarian participation in the community’s life and access to the community’s resources. This can also deepen the community’s draft upon and its practice of compassionate justice. Without such an orderly reconfiguration of society, God’s beloved human family will suffer and atrophy, ultimately generating social conflict and repression.” (This author’s summation)
Naming the Parable. Alternative titles encountered in parable research include these: The Wicked Tenants (most frequent in one form or another); A Man Planted a Vineyard (Scott); in J. B. Phillips’ translation there is simply the heading: Jesus tells a story with a pointed application; The Wicked Landlord (Wm. Herzog); McCollough’s title: The Absentee Landlord (Matthew’s term is oikodespotes: household despot).
What if we named the parable in 21st century terms, following Herzog’s and McCollough’s lead? For example, “The Inaccessible Higher-ups.” Even “Absentee Landlord” works as a modern phrasing, as in urban absentee landlord and the pattern of exploitation that often goes with this role. (You might think of Paul McKee, who is advancing a vast North St. Louis development proposal. However, the point is not really the person; it is the system that is skewed to benefit wealth and power at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised. McKee may be as good a person as any of us at this table, but has simply decided to use what some would consider a deeply flawed urban sociopolitical system to further enrich himself and perhaps do some good on the side, as he defines it, for the city at the same time.) You might think of other titles.
Here’s the thing about naming: The power of naming is the intellectual power to assume the prerogative of seeing things in a fresh and different way. It is the freedom to re-think and re-frame and re-orient perspective on a given reality. The power of naming something is the power of insight. It allows us to read the parable freely, without the inherited title’s bias. The power of naming is the power to re-calibrate and re-configure, opening up new possibilities for insight.
Then, there is also the power to name: The gospel writer, and not even Jesus, for that matter, as far as we know, titled Jesus’ parables. This was done later, perhaps much later. The power to name is the power to bind the mind, or to liberate it. It is the power to set the course of a narrative’s meaning. Consider the power to name that devolved upon the President of the U. S. on Sept. 11, 2001. What might the outcome have been, if, when he stood before the nation to galvanize our response, the narrative had been named “The Campaign to Reconcile with Alienated Peoples,” instead of naming it “The Global War on Terror?” And what if commensurate resources, equivalent to those applied to “The Global War on Terror,” had been deployed?
We had been reinforcing for a long, long time the “war” metaphor as a way of naming our concerns, organizing them into a narrative: The War on Poverty, The War on Crime, The War on Drugs, The War on Violence(!?) Is it any wonder that we are moving more and more deeply into a mindset of all war all the time? That we find ourselves mired in this metaphor, this narrative of “war,” even in our domestic politics?
A Modern Parable. Finally, perhaps one way of discerning the level of one’s understanding of a parable is to write a contemporary, twenty-first century version and then compare. Here, in conclusion, is my attempt:
A Wall Street banker designed a credit card and saturated the market with tantalizing promotional offers. Enticing short term incentives drew the poor and economically marginal into this system, along with the rich who enjoyed much more favorable terms. Material standards of living improved markedly as the poor acquired many things that made their lives easier and more enjoyable: Washers and dryers, microwaves, flat screen TVs, Bibles, computers, I-phones, home furnishings – all the things that fulfill the American Dream, making the formerly powerless feel that they were finally driving their own narrative. Minimum Required Payments were dutifully paid each month. The Wall Street banker thrived.
Then, as promotional rates expired, elevated normal rates were imposed. The required minimum payments increased and penalties were exacted for late payment and for surpassing the credit limit. Interest rates were raised further to reflect a now-blemished payment record. Penalties piled upon penalties. Low-income consumers were less and less able to remit even minimum payments. The banker’s profits began to shrink.
The banker sent bill collectors to pressure, harass, and frighten consumers into using their food and prescription and mortgage money to pay their credit card bills. The bill collectors employed outrageous and unethical methods. The consumers found themselves sinking in a bog of debt, drowning in the American Dream. Finally, the low-income consumers banded together and chased the bill collectors out of town.
The banker appealed to the courts, who sent out sheriff’s deputies with subpoenas. The consumers stripped the deputies of their uniforms and sent them packing in their undies, while tossing the subpoenas in the trash.
Finally, the company’s owner sent his son, the First Vice President for Community Relations, offering reward points for consumers who could be cajoled into some minimal form of compliance. The banker told himself, “They will be impressed by my exceptionally smooth and persuasive son, and they’ll be happy to get these consumer heaven goodies, and he will bring a great harvest of additional profits.”
But the consumers said, “This is the banker’s only heir; come, let us strike terror into the banker’s heart by brutally killing this son of his. Then, the banker will know we mean business. He will be so intimidated that he will retreat into his secure, high-rise condo, and give up on trying to get us to pay. And then, all these goodies of the American Dream will be ours, debt-free!”
So, they seized the banker’s son, beat him brutally and killed him, and threw his body out of the branch office into the street, so that all the world could see what happens when the powerful and rich elite overreach in their exploitations.
Anyone with two ears had better listen!
The point? Not that the authorities should be duly respected. Not that the absentee banker should prevail. Not that the son will redeem and redirect corporate heaven’s blessings. Not that the rebellious tenants should be condoned in their misbehavior. The point is that the whole system is screwed up and requires a basileia transformation. So, what, asks this narrative, are we going to do to live into these basileia forces now that history has pitched us this fast-breaking curve ball?
The parable’s message is that it’s time to wake up and pay attention, because the whole house of cards is about to crumble (which it did, after Jesus’ death, forty years later), and it is in this crumbling that the advent of God, reversing everything, calls us to action on behalf of basileia. How are we going to participate in God’s incarnating the basileia here and now, in this world?
When we live into Jesus’ Narrative of the Absentee Landlord, do sparks fly? They did when Jesus told it, according to the canonical gospels, because “…they wanted to arrest him.”
This essay was presented at Chi Alpha, an ecumenical ministers group, meeting for dialogue and mutual encouragement since its founding in St. Louis in 1884. A different member each session (semi-monthly October through May) presents a paper for reflection and discussion.