"As the World Turns," "Guiding Light," "Days of our Lives," "The Bold and the Beautiful"... I imagine that if you are a soaps fan, just reading these titles has already caused you to remember your favorite characters and plotlines, grieve the demise of GL, and think of your favorite soap I did not name.
As a child, soap operas and summer were integral partners and thus my days were shaped by what soap grabbed our attention during those hot days. Although my mom preferred the CBS soap world that harkened back to the origins of soap on the radio, I preferred the NBC soap world starting at noon that then freed me for an afternoon at the pool. I knew that soaps had woven their plots seamlessly into my life when one evening at supper our dad asked my younger brother and I about our day. My brother replied by earnestly flipping the iconic beginning of Days from:
"Like sands in an hour glass, so are the days of our lives..." to
"Like hours in a sand box, so are the days of our lives..."
As a 10-year-old his interpretation made infinitely more sense to me. As I entered high school and college my soap tastes refined to the 30 minute serial of "The Bold and the Beautiful" or B & B as aficionados were want to say. A dear friend reminded me of this guilty pleasure that made us about five minutes late to a 1 p.m. class every Friday. He is now a distinguished Biblical scholar and Professor of Hebrew Bible, and like me, I imagine he hasn't watched Brooke, Ridge, Thorne or any of the nature-inspired-named characters in quite some time, but that memory got me to thinking. Are there any correlations between the narrative styling and character loyalty of soap operas to the narrative styling and character loyalty of faith texts? I think there are:
1) Story Matters. Soap operas grasp that life is lived in story: the stories we tell about ourselves, the stories we inherit from our elders and our communities, and the normative, capital "S" Stories we claim that give our lower-case "s" stories ultimate meaning. Stories give our existence rhythm and purpose, and offer a place for us to wrestle with what is real and what is true. Stories offer a space for transformation and growth. And, although the soaps can verge on stereotypical and sensational with their cliff-hangers and tears, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures also grasp that stories can shock us with miracles, healing, resurrection, and subversive moments where societal norms are challenged and perspectives expand to include those beyond the shelter of our communities. Like the Friday episode of every soap, when you read the scriptures, you want to tune in next week to see what happens next. However, scripture tends to surpass the soaps in being far more interested in not only what happens but why. A preacher and writer, Fredrick Beuchner, reminds us in his autobiographical work Telling Secrets:
"story is a narrative of events arranged chronologically...whereas plot, although also a narrative of events, concentrates more on the because of things..."
Stories of meaning and amusement captivate us not only because of what happens but why.
2) Relationships Matter. Every soap revolves around romantic love and around family love, and sadly, these two sometimes mix to shock and horror, but ultimately soaps understand that the core of individual existence depends on the web of love in which we find ourselves. Life consists of navigating the relationships we inherit and the relationships we choose, which often offer surprises and unlikely friendships along the way. In scripture, tribe matters, family lineage matters (the first chapter we read of Matthew in the New Testament is a lengthy family tree of Jesus Christ), and friends matter. Jesus in fact expands the definition of family to all believers as we hear in passages from Mark 3, and as we hear in Acts the early church quickly became family to one another which involved moments of great love, great dispute, and moments of drama when the family led by Peter reached out to extend the right hand of fellowship and faithful relationship to the family led by Paul. Scandal!
3) Resurrection Matters. In every soap opera I've seen, no one truly dies. Beloved characters return a year after a fiery crash or mysterious disappearance, sometimes played by the original actor, sometimes not. Resurrection always causes turmoil and doubt and lives change as they adapt to a new normal. And here is where scripture departs the greatest from the narrative tradition of soaps, since for scripture resurrection is not merely a part of the story but the THE story. The story of the resurrection shapes all the stories we tell and the relationships we have. We have no hope to be "bold and beautiful" but through the power of the resurrection. The grace of God freely given remains the only true "guiding light" that can lead us "as the world turns" through the "day of our lives."
May your summer be a time when you can reconnect not only to the stories, like soaps, that amuse you, but to the stories of ultimate meaning that give your life story purpose and new life.
To read more from Amy Ziettlow, visit www.familyscholars.org