I’m reading an intriguing book at the moment written by a V.M.Straka, called ‘The Ship of Theseus’. It is the story of a man known simply as ‘S’ who finds himself shanghaied upon a strange ship with a sinister crew. The catch is he has no idea who he is or how he got there. His memories are all blank. The story is a fun read, but on its own is not dramatically original. There is, however, much more going on here than at first meets the eye.

The book appears to be an old library book. The pages are old, as is the cover. On the side is a library sticker, accompanied by stamps on the inside of the cover. This book has been well read. The foreward by an F. X. Caldiera tells of another mystery, that of the real identity of The Ship of Theseus’ author. Just who was Straka? Straka is described as a revolutionary character, political and dangerous, and a number of suggestions are made as to his identity. These are further explored by Caldiera in the footnotes. It also transpires that Caldiera was Straka’s translator, but never met him.

There is, however, yet another mystery afoot here. Scribbled all over the margins of the book are messages by two students, Jennifer, a college senior and Eric, a disgraced grad student. They haven’t met and have got caught in the mystery of the book and its author and in turn communicate their theories and ideas to each other. They suspect that Straka’s book is in fact trying to communicate something about who he is, and that Caldiera is trying to send a coded message to him through the footnotes. Are you managing to keep up? To make it even more entertaining still, there are various items slotted into the book – scraps of paper, old postcards, photographs, even a paper napkin upon which a message is written. As you read the book you go on a journey with them as they seek to elucidate what the book and its footnotes are really about and just who Straka is. As they do so, you begin to realise that they too are getting drawn into a dangerous situation, both politically and physically.

It’s an amazing book, and it’s reminded me once again how we as humans love a sense of mystery, and boy there’s a lot of that here in this multi-layered novel. I have found myself drawn in and totally captivated by it. This has reminded me that at the heart of our faith is mystery; God himself. He has revealed himself to us, but that doesn’t mean that we can explain everything about him, or know it all. Once we try to do that we lose him and his magnificence. There is a mystery in the Cross and resurrection too. We can explain it with doctrine and theory, but we reduce it to snappy phrases and easy ideas at our peril. Such mystery isn’t something to be scared of; it is in fact the very thing that people are drawn to and attracted by. The book has also reminded me of something else. To make sense of The Ship of Theseus, we also need to witness the lives of Eric and Jennifer. Could it also be that for those around us to make sense of God they need to witness not just him, but also his people, i.e. ourselves?

There is one more layer I should reveal to this book. In real life it has actually been written not by Straka or by Caldiera, but by an American author called Doug Dorst. The slipcase announces that the name of this novel, is in fact ‘S’. One more twist, we’re told the book was conceived by a certain J.J. Abrams, the famous film and TV producer, director and writer. Again, we’re left wondering who actually wrote what…

Church newsletter article, 02.02.14


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