Preaching Parables: A Metaphorical Interfaith Approach, by Steven J. Voris. Paulist (Mahwah, N.J., 2008).219 pp., $19.95.
''Parables are an art form,'' writes Steven J. Voris in the preface to Preaching Parables. ''They are simple words on a page or speech spoken in the air, yet they have the power to transform and change lives, '' he continues.
Voris, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps, explains in his first chapter how parables, ''as a genre of literature, are distinguished by seven characteristics: 1. parables are primarily narrative stories; 2. parables deal in the realm of metaphor; 3. parables are brief; 4. parables have a teaching or transformative intention; 5. parables have unexpected twists that give the hearers pause for thought; 6. the interpretations of parables are context sensitive, and 7. parables act on hearers covertly. ''
According to Voris, parables function in one of three different ways. They can function as judicial parables, teaching-metaphor parables, or example-metaphor parables. He explains that a judicial parable ''is designed to move hearers to make a life change. '' A teaching-metaphor parable ''is designed to help students gain insight into something unfamiliar. '' And an example-metaphor parable ''provides a model for hearers to imitate. ''
In the second chapter he explores the uses of parables in world religions. In subsequent chapters he explains how parables work, the anatomy of a parable, how to read and how to write parables, and more. He even provides an index of Jesus' parables that occur in the Lectionary.
The plethora of parables from around the world is what makes this book suitable for one's homily-preparation shelf, however. Here is one short parable, called ''The Parable of the Armchair Knight'' to give a taste of what else exists between the covers of Voris's book:
''Two men were invited to enter a jousting tournament. Both men had dreamed of being knights, but had no practical experience. Both men ordered the equipment from a catalog: suits of armor, visors, lances and swords. ''
''The first man contracted with a stable to borrow a horse so he could practice jousting. He hung loops on a tall pole and galloped his horse toward the pole trying to penetrate the loop with his lance. He wasn't very good, but he kept on practicing. ''
''The second man got a book from the library on jousting and read it in his armchair. The book was fascinating. He learned it all by heart, so he didn't feel a need to practice in preparation for the tournament. ''
''When the day of the tournament came, the first man jousted nobly and earned the respect of the court. The second man fell of his horse before the first pass without his opponent having touched him with a lance. The second man lost the tournament, but from his reading, he knew where he had gone wrong. ''
According to Voris, ''Those who want to practice the skills learned in this book may want to spend some time reading parables. '' To this end he gives three pages of bibliography. He concludes: ''Go forth, and let the one who has ears hear! ''
In John Jay Hughes's introduction to No Ordinary Fool: A Testimony to Grace (Mustang, Okla.: Tate Publishing, 2008), he writes that he wrote his autobiography 12 years ago, and ''it was almost twice the length of this book, '' which consists of 344 pages. Hughes continues, ''Unsurprisingly, it was turned down by more than 20 publishers, on both sides of the Atlantic. '' There are other reasons why it was not published.
Hughes, the son and grandson of Anglican priests and a direct descendant of U.S. founding father and first Chief Justice, John Jay, is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis; he has written 10 previous books. He also wrote the Homily Backgrounds for this magazine for three years in the 1980s.
While this reviewer read the book as the self-told story of a man who always wanted to be a priest, he found the narrative in need of a new hermeneutic, a new interpretation. The old one is well known: a man wants to be a priest all his life; he attempts to satisfy his call by becoming an Anglican priest; he converts to Catholicism and, after study, becomes a Roman Catholic priest; his father, an Anglican priest, disowns him; they never see each other again.
The book is replete with the old biblical father-son theme, namely, there is tension between a son and his father as the son is seeking his own way as a man in the world, but sooner or later the son must determine his own identity and establish himself. For Hughes this becomes a lifetime struggle. A saying of Hughes's father even gives rise to the title of this book. After his mother died when he was but six years old, Hughes grew closer to his father, who later married a woman nicknamed Bina to whom Hughes grew close after his father's death.
The book is desperately in need of an editor who would have forced the author to narrate his story. Instead, Hughes often quotes at length -- sometimes whole chapters -- from old letters that can easily cause the reader to lose interest.
For those wanting to read about one man's search for God, the book delivers. Hughes writes about his life of prayer in the long discernment process he went through to leave Anglicanism and embrace Catholicism. He writes, ''Entering the Catholic Church had been the most difficult thing I had ever done.'' He also tells about his deep and abiding joy in being a priest. TP