PW: What led you to write A Serious Way of Wondering? What's the story behind it?
Reynolds Price: The book has its origins in the Francis Peabody Lecture that I delivered at Harvard Memorial Church. Since Peabody distinguished himself by introducing the study of social ethics, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the ethics of Jesus, a topic that had occupied my imagination for many years already. At the end of that lecture I presented my narrative exploration of the moment when Jesus is confronted with the ethical dilemma of homosexuality. In another lecture at the National Cathedral, two days after September 11, 2001, I concluded the lecture with another exploration of Jesus' confrontation of the ethical dilemma of suicide. And in the Rudin Lecture at Auburn Seminary in November 2002, I added a third fictional encounter in which Jesus meets, alone, the woman taken in adultery. I explore the ways that both Jesus and the woman are changed by this encounter.
PW: At least two of these stories imagine the resurrected Jesus confronting these dilemmas. Why does the resurrected Jesus have the power to confront these issues when the living Jesus does not?
RP: I've always been intrigued that Paul reports in 1 Corinthians 15:5 that the risen Jesus appears first to Peter and then to the 12. Thus, according to Paul at least, Judas would have been in the group to which Jesus appeared. That led me to wondering how Jesus might have talked to Judas if the two could have had a few moments alone. Would Judas have admitted his real reason for killing Jesus was his disappointment in having to share the erotic love for Jesus with everyone equally? What would Jesus have said to Judas about Judas's desire to kill himself? As I say in the book, I hope I have thought of at least one honest way into the mind of Jesus and possibly the baffled and bitter Judas.
PW: You focus primarily on the gospels of Mark and John in your book. Why not also use the resurrection appearances in Matthew and Luke?
RP: I think that Mark and John present the most interesting images of Jesus, and the ones that lend themselves most readily to the imaginative treatment I am giving them. In Mark, Jesus is a recognizable human being. In John, however, Jesus may be human, but he's something of a magus. In addition, in John's gospel, Jesus often acts so strange that we might ask "Was Jesus psychotic?" But also in these two gospels, especially John, I think that the resurrection appearances provide an insight into Jesus' primary ethical commandment.
PW: What is that commandment?
RP: The absolute core of the Christian ethic, in my judgment, is found in the risen Jesus' words: "Feed my sheep." As I say in the book, when the risen Jesus vanished at the end of 40 days he left us a trim inheritance for our ethics that is captured in three sayings: "Feed my sheep"; "Love your neighbor as yourself"; and "Do not resist an evil person." Of course, the demand to love God is implicit in each of these sayings.
PW: Your stories are provocative and raise serious questions about Christian ethics. Is there any way that the Church can embrace the morals of your stories and transform itself?
RP: I would hope that lots of different kinds of Christians would be able to read these stories and think about particular ethical dilemmas. I would hope that churches might encourage people to invent stories for a variety of ethical situations as a way of helping people to engage deeply the questions raised by those situations. Orthodox and Protestant Christianity has missed the boat on particular ethical issues such as homosexuality, but inventing stories offers us a way to imagine anew what Jesus might have done when confronted with a particular ethical dilemma.
PW: What's next for you?
RP: I'm working now on a new novel, but I always have something on religion cooking on the stove.