Thinking Out Loud

January 13, 2014

Life is Not Like a Box of Chocolates

analogy comparison metaphor simile

Just because you heard the phrase, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” in the movie Forrest Gump, you shouldn’t extrapolate the individual comparison in a single scene in the film to be a general guiding principle for life. In most respects, life is not at all like a box of chocolates. Nor, as Google might lead you to believe, is like an arrow, a bicycle, a camera, a deck of cards, an elevator, a football, a grapefruit, a hurricane, or… I’ll let you work your way through the rest of alphabet.

Comparing things can be helpful to our understanding however. In Jesus’ teaching ministry, he took examples from the world as his hearers knew it — mostly agricultural comparisons — and either made direct connections or taught the principles as parables because they were parallel to things his audience could relate to. In my world, I often will use computer jargon and terminology to create an analogy which teaches a Biblical principle.

Our language generally offers us two options: Metaphor and simile.  (You’d have to be as dumb as an ox not to know the difference. Just kidding! That’s an example of simile. And sarcasm.)  A popular technique in the broad category of metaphor would be allegory, with the most recognizable examples in Christian literature being Pilgrim’s Progress, or the Chronicles of Narnia books; along with a number of contemporary writers in the Christian fantasy fiction genre.

But there is another writing technique I would like to offer here as simply springboard. Skye Jethani does this in The Divine Commodity where he uses the art of Vincent van Gogh to get the discussion rolling, or in the forthcoming Futureville where the springboard is the vision of the future as offered by the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Mark Batterson does this with The Circle Maker, beginning with the legend of Honi.

You could also argue that almost all Christian fiction — while some of it allegorical — is mostly springboard for further discussion; consisting either of internal deliberation, or discourse with friends in your book group, church library or at the Christian bookstore.

This technique does not sit well with all readers.  The purists who prefer expository preaching to topical preaching would, with horror, rate the springboard type of writing even further down the spectrum. It’s just all too easy to criticize; to get lost in the metaphor or allegory and miss the point.

So here are some reminders:

  1. Most metaphors are limited to single aspects of the thing being compared. Any similarity life has to a box of chocolates is overshadowed by other aspects of the box, the wrapper, the plastic inset, etc., and life generally does not come with a complete guide printed on the lid. This is because…
  2. …All metaphors eventually break down at some point. There are a few ‘perfect’ metaphors, but more imperfect ones. This can lead to a situation where…
  3. …Metaphors and allegories are easily misunderstood. Not everybody grasps the comparison first time around, especially if the chosen metaphor is something somewhat foreign.
  4. Borrowing a theme or idea from another world — whether it’s a legend from another religion or a principle of motorcycle repair — does not necessarily imply endorsement.
  5. The placement of a metaphor or discussion springboard in mainstream Christian literature may result in it being seized upon by people on the fringes of mainstream Christianity who want to use the metaphor to say things the author never intended.

However — and this is so important — the use of parables and similar teaching forms by Jesus should be an encouragement to us to find similar redemptive analogies in our modern world.  If you’re a writer, avoid the pressure to be boringly precise and instead, introduce edge into your writing by finding the connection everyone else has missed heretofore.

Communication is only achieved when the hearer fully gets it, and that will involve drawing parallels between ‘A’ and ‘B’ rather than repeating the words of a definition over and over to someone who is missing the point.

March 6, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Jesus is the Light of the World

Regular readers will know this already, but I’ve never quite come out and said it: I find it somewhat snobbish when bloggers publish link lists where anything older than 2-3 days is considered obsolete. A true link sleuth will unearth some great material and won’t be concerned if the post is dated 30 days ago. If it was true then…

  • Essay of the week: Church Planting in Montreal. A somewhat typical couple has been living together for ten years but has never gotten close to having any kind of spiritual discussion. And that’s just one challenge. The Quebecois version of Hybels’ “unchurched Harry” is quite different from “Harry” in the rest of North America. 
  • Runner up: Remember that feeling when you were young and you came home from school only to find nobody home and you immediately thought everybody had been raptured?  Well, it happens to not-so-young college students, too.
  • Okay, so that video about how to write a worship song wasn’t the first time Jordan at BlimeyCow waded into Christian music criticism. Or church camp. And different types of churches
  • While everyone else on Sunday night was watching The Bible miniseries on History, one blogger was putting the final period on his review even as the credits rolled. I guess that way you get to say, “First!”  (The cable channel show beat all the big networks in the ratings.)
  • If you know people whose Christian faith is characterized by what they are against, may I suggest you copy and paste this article and email it to them.
  • For people who don’t know how to use a “table of contents” in a book, The Alpha Bible presents the Bible books in… well you know.
  • Given the success of The Book of Mormon, a Broadway production by The Foursquare Church denomination on the life of Aimee Semple McPherson probably seemed like a good idea at the time
  • The idea of gospel tracts probably seems somewhat archaic to most readers here, but the concision of these short presentations actual suits present attention spans. Now 31 Good News tracts are available on audio.  
  • Matt Hafer comes out of church leadership hibernation with five ways for pastors to tell if people are truly on board.
  • I know I often link you over to Christianity 201, but I really want you all, if nothing else, to catch this video.
  • In some ways connected to a link we had here last week, a Christianity Today women’s blog suggests a little bit of Christianese is OK.
  • As someone whose entire wardrobe was purchased at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, this is scary: Pat Robertson allows the possibility that those shirts and sweaters could have demonic spirits attached. (That’s why Pat buys professionally tailored suits, I guess.)
  • Once we know the name of the new Pope, the new Pope has to choose a name. Past Pope picks included these. (You remember Pope Urban, right?) 
  • How is it possible that this great song by the Wheaton College Gospel Choir has had less than 2,500 views in two years?  If this don’t bring a smile to your face, your mouth is broken. Watch, copy the link and share.
  • Jon Acuff finds himself in a prayer meeting with someone who gives a whole new meaning to the phrase too much information
  • If you missed it January, Shaun Groves shares songwriting secrets for worship composers. But ultimately, “I think worship writers have parted with standard songwriting practices because they’re creating with the live experience in mind. So their priorities are much different from those of a traditional songwriter.”
  • The people at Thomas Nelson flatly refused us a review copy of this, but I’ll be nice and tell you about it anyway. Jesus: A Theography is a new book by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola combining theology and biography with –[free review time expired]
  • …Mind you, that was already better than this guy’s review. “After a while, I finally put the book down and said enough.” (When you accept a free book you do agree to finish reading it.)
  • Remember Anne Jackson? Well she’s still kicking around, still writing, and apparently this Friday is a special day
  • Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Lutheran with attitude, shares her struggle preparing to preach on The Parable of the Vineyard. (Open the audio link in a new tab, then click back to follow the text; the whole sermon is about ten minutes.) Actual quote: “…you’d think that I’d totally remember a parable where poop is mentioned.”
  • Meanwhile Steve McCoy’s kids, age 12 and 14, are taking sermon notes while he preaches.
  • On our fifth birthday, we introduced you to Derek the Cleric. We had a tough time that day choosing between two cartoons and thought we’d stretch the written permission we received to do just one more.

Derek The Cleric - Powerpoint

December 30, 2012

Parables for Our Times

Filed under: current events, Humor — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:07 am

Subtitle: Not Your Grandma’s Prince of Peace

James Martin is a Catholic Priest and author of The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.

The Smart Samaritan

1. Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 2. Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 3. And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 4. But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

5. Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers. Fortunately, the man from Jerusalem was no fool and was carrying a big wooden club. So he beat the robbers senseless. Just then, a Samaritan came by to help him. 6. The man said to the Samaritan, “Don’t worry. They got what they deserved.” Later, though, the robbers’ friends waylaid the man. Together they had four clubs, so they beat up the man from Jerusalem. 7. Immediately the Samaritan, who had now learned a lesson, ran away, and sold his field, and with the money he purchased ten clubs. 8. The Samaritan armed his entire family, including his wives, his sons, his slaves and all his cattle and sheep. Among his heavily armed family was his elder son, who was angry at his father for not treating him as well his younger brother, who had spent all his money on loose living and had returned and was given a feast.” 9. “Lord, I’m getting confused,” said the lawyer. “Weren’t we talking about being a good neighbor?”

10. “Let me finish,” said Jesus. “The father knew that his son was angry, and potentially dangerous, so the father purchased an even bigger club that he hid under his bed. 11. That night, when father was asleep, the son came to father to apologize for being envious. The father, thinking it was a robber, hit him over the head. 12. Now which of these three, do you think, was a wise person?” said Jesus. 13. The lawyer said, “Actually, none of them. If the father hadn’t brought those weapons into his house, then no one would have gotten hurt.” Jesus was grieved at the lawyer’s blindness. 14. “You’re missing the point.” Jesus said. “It’s a violent world out there, and my advice is to purchase as many clubs as you can.” The lawyer was sad, for he was a peaceful man. 15. “Lord,” he said, “are you saying I should be like the Samaritan who has a houseful of weapons?” “Yes,” said Jesus. “Go and do likewise. And while you’re at it, buy me a club too.”

Read two more updated parables here.

February 26, 2010

Peter Rollins Makes His Point Well, Despite My Earlier Misgivings

As you might remember, back in the summer I abandoned my reading of Peter Rollins’ The Orthodox Heretic. It was just too “out there” for me.  Or so I thought.  But last night I decided to read the final six or seven short essays and while I’m not sure if it was me or Peter Rollins, something changed in those final pages to the point where, while I’m still not 100% comfortable with a full endorsement, I have to give the author some measure of credit for really thinking through some popular Bible narratives.

I thought I’d look at this one, the story we call “The Prodigal Son” only because it reminds me of the Rob Bell Peter Walking on Water Controversy which is still getting comments.   This should drive some of the same people equally nuts.  But I don’t believe for a minute that there is a singular interpretation to everything that Jesus taught, nor do I believe that there are not some additional, deeper nuggets of truth lurking under the surface, awaiting discovery.

Rollins begins by re-telling the story, albeit somewhat abridged.   The younger son has claimed his share of the estate, left home and hit bottom.

There was no life for the young man so he thought to himself, I have had a good time in the last few years, but perhaps I should now return to my Father’s home.  For there it is warm, and while he will be angry, he may take pity on me and let me work as a hired hand. And so he began his return journey.

Rollins then narrates the son’s return, the father’s joy, the reinstatement of the son, the celebration.  And then,

Later that night, after the party, while he was alone, the younger son wept with sorrow and repented for the life he had led.

As with all 33 stories in the book, he then moves into a commentary section. And then…

…The question we must ask concerns how much of what he baptize with the name forgiveness is really worthy of that name.

…In politics…forgiveness is strategic and comes with conditions…

…In the world of work…forgiveness can be a great strategy for helpign to ensure return business and a good reputation…

…When it comes to religion…as John Caputo notes in What Would Jesus Deconstruct? forgiveness all too often comes after a set of criteria have been met, namely an expression of sorrow, a turning away from the act, a promise not to return to the act, and a willingness to do penance.  Forgiveness thus follows repentance and so cannot take place until repentance has occurred.

…But what if Jesus had an infinitely more radical message than this?  What if Jesus taught an impossible forgiveness, a forgiveness without conditions, a forgiveness that would forgive before some conditions were met?

…Is it not true that the conditional gift of forgiveness, without the need of repentance, houses within it the power to evoke repentance?  …It is impossible to change until we meet someone who says to us, “You don’t have to change, I love you just the way you are.”

What if a forgiveness that has conditions, that is wrapped up in economy, is not really forgiveness at all, but rather is nothing more than a prudent bet?

Rollins then quotes verses 17-20 of Luke 15:

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father…

Rollins continues,

It would initially seem that the repentance in the story came before the forgiveness.  Yet is the younger son really repentant here?  The text says he came to his “senses,” that is, he started to make a sensible calculation.  One would expect the narrative to claim something like, “in repentance he returned to his father’s home,,” but the story describes the son’s internal monologue as a strategic decision rather than a change of heart.

But even if his repentance were genuine…the father’s response shows no economy is at work in the kingdom.   After all, we read these powerful words, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion…”

The father has no interest in whether or not his son is repentant.  All he cares about is the son’s return.

…The radical idea of forgiveness…is already embedded in the original story.   It adds a conclusion that imagines how such unconditional love may have actually provided the power needed to precipitate a change of heart in the son, rather than his experience of eating with the pigs.

There is a depth to this insight.   Perhaps I would have done better to simply leave the author unnamed, given the polarization that’s out there.   Maybe we all need to see on what personal level we need to take the story to heart.

July 25, 2009

Personal Stuff

  • I am so spiritual.   This week, anyway.   Today is the first day of the last seven I haven’t been to a two-hour morning church service.  Living in the same town as the district office of a national denomination has its advantages, especially when they hold a summer camp meeting program with their best speakers and top guest musicians.    …Truth be told, going to church every day doesn’t make you more spiritual, but I have enjoyed the teaching of Dr. Van Johnson, dean of Master’s Pentecostal Seminary, which is a joint venture between the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and Tyndale University College & Seminary.   “Dr. Van,” as is students call him, stays down-to-earth by also being the worship leader in a local church in Toronto.
  • Orthodox HereticI’m currently reading a book by one of the guest speakers at Rob Bell’s recent “Preachers, Poets and Prophets” conference.   Peter Rollins’ The Orthodox Heretic is a mixture of folk tales and stories combined with remixes of classic Biblical narratives; followed by commentary.   Not surprisingly,  Bell, a co-conspirator in storytelling, wrote the foreword.   I’m still not sure where this title ‘fits in’ to the larger body of Christian literature that’s out there.   The chapters are short, and seem to scratch the surface of something deeper that’s not entirely fleshed out.   Lots of good ideas, to be sure, but ideas alone don’t make a book.   I’ll let you know when I’m finished.  If anyone else out there has read it, I’d love to hear your opinion in the comment section.
  • This one arrived too late for yesterday’s link collection, but it’s a YouTube embed at the blog, Human 3rror; featuring a wedding processional with a twist.   After watching it together, we both came to the same conclusion that this probably reflects the atmosphere that prevailed at weddings in Biblical times.   Check out the action, here.
  • In doing some research for someone this week, I came across an apologetics website which had previously escaped my radar.   Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry contains several good online articles on major faith groups, plus a few smaller ones you may not know.    They certainly helped with what I needed.  Check them out at carm.org
  • After three weeks of being empty-nesters, our youngest son is back from camp, while our oldest is halfway through his ten week mission at Camp Iawah.    (Donations toward his support still count; VISA and MasterCard accepted; just contact us for more info.)
  • I know a lot of Evangelicals aren’t big fans of Michael Moore, but we watched Farenheit 911 last night after Mrs. W. picked it up on sale really cheap.    Without wanting to engage a wider, very emotional debate, the movie demonstrates with great clarity that the issues surrounding the American military action in Iraq and Afghanistan are very, very complicated; especially, but not limited to, the complications involve the Bush family itself, and their historic relationship with the Binladen family.    And of course, those issues also bear on the involvement of troops from coalition nations such as Canada, Britain, Italy, etc.
  • We spent an hour this afternoon in our ‘rented’ garden plot, mostly pulling weeds.    When you’re getting your hands dirty, it’s easy to recall some of Jesus’ agrarian parables.    The one that came to my mind today — recalled slightly askew — was the one about the weeds and the tares growing side-by-side.   We have a lot of weeds and tares.   They totally choked out the potatoes, and were dwarfing everything else.    But that’s what happens when it’s been eight days since your previous visit; and that visit was nine days before that.    You can’t be a farmer and enjoy summer holidays.

November 29, 2008

Further Considering the Prodigal Son (and the Prodigal God)

Filed under: bible, Christianity, theology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:45 pm

greg-boyd1prodigal-god-tim-keller1

Like many others, I have been quite taken with Timothy Keller’s new book The Prodigal God, which I considered briefly here a few weeks ago.   I am ever impressed at the ability of this story to challenge us in so many different ways.

So it was only fitting that we downloaded two of Greg Boyd’s sermons from Woodland Hills preached earlier in November which deal with the same topic.   As Greg points out, if the father in the story had simply pursued justice, no one would remember this story today.   (I would have added that no gospel writer would have included it then either.)

One thing I like about Greg’s preaching is that he doesn’t tell you all he knows.   This is a guy with such intellectual depth that I recently gave up trying to follow a particular discussion at his Christus Victor Ministries blog.   To adapt a term from television production, he leaves enough “intellectual headroom” that you know he’s done his homework, but doesn’t lose the common touch.   (The second part of the series includes a hilarious summer job story from Greg’s student days that is such a perfect fit to the parable under discussion.)

Anyway, all this to say, read Timothy’s book, and listen to Greg’s sermon.  To do the latter go to the Woodland Hills download page, and select the sermons for November 9 and November 16, 2008.  You can either listen to on streaming audio (allow 40 minutes of uninterrupted listening per sermon) or copy it to a disc as we did for those long car trips. You’re bound to read or hear things about this so-familiar Bible passage that you haven’t heard or read before.

Pictures: left: Greg Boyd; right: Timothy Keller book

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