Thursday, July 22, 2010

King David and Ebooks

There has been a lot of discussion on the writers’ email loops I belong to lately about the fate of the book as it exists now, about publishing in general, and about how all this is going to affect us as authors. I tend to be one of those oblivious souls who stagger through life unaware that great things are happening all around, and I haven’t apportioned many gray cells to focus on this subject.

However, yesterday, I had a breakthrough thought. Let me explain how it came about, and then I’ll share the thought to anyone who’s still with me.

This year in Sunday school, the course of study is the Old Testament. Right now, we’re covering the story arc of King David, and a couple of Sundays ago we discussed the Bathsheba portion of that arc.

If you remember the story, David’s sin wasn’t just that he lay with a married woman, but when she found she was with child, he called her warrior husband, Uriah, home from the front for a conjugal visit so the baby would appear to be Uriah’s. When Uriah, unwilling to enjoy the comforts that his fellow soldiers couldn’t have, sleeps in the doorway instead, David has to go to plan B: send Uriah to the front lines in a battle where he is sure to be killed. When the plan is successful, David is free to take Bathsheba as (another) wife.

Nathan the prophet finds out what’s been going on and comes to call David to account. He doesn’t storm in and denounce David in a stirring oration. He doesn’t sermonize. He sits down and tells David a story. It’s a wonderful story that I may have embellished somewhat, but it goes like this:

There were two men who lived in the same city. One was rich; one was poor. The rich man had vast flocks and herds, but the poor man had only a little ewe lamb that he had raised on the bottle. It was more of a family member than livestock. It ate scraps from the table and even drank out of his cup, and it slept by his master’s bed at night.

One day a traveler came to visit the rich man, and the rich man wanted to give a great banquet with roast lamb as a centerpiece. He set about ordering preparations for the gala, but instead of calling for one of his own lambs to be slaughtered for the feast, he instructed his henchmen to take the poor man’s lamb and dress it and put it on the spit to roast.

David, hearing the story and thinking Nathan is speaking of the actions of one of his subjects, is incensed and pronounces judgment:

The man that has done this shall surely die, but first he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did the deed without pity.

And then, and this is the great part, Nathan says to David, “Thou art the man.”

So, there we have it, a story within a story, both beautifully told in the Old Testament. Nathan got David’s attention by a story. He wouldn’t have made such an impression with a sermon. He would probably have got either a yawn or a knee-jerk defensive reaction. But he sucked David in with the story and taught a great lesson.

And that’s my breakthrough thought: the story’s the thing. We will survive in some format, whether paper and ink or digitally or in a hologram. Storytellers are a necessary part of the moral fabric of our culture and civilization. I might add that we’re also a big part of the immoral fabric—but that’s another breakthrough thought for another blog.