Thinking Out Loud

January 14, 2017

As Metaphorical as a Simile

analogy comparison metaphor simile

Maybe it’s because of the pending release of a certain movie which will go unmentioned which is based on a certain book which was so very controversial in 2007 when it released; but I keep thinking that some of us Christians are very narrow when it comes to embracing different art or literary forms…

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. In my wife’s opinion, life is more like a sushi bar, or the bag containing the Scrabble letters, or herding cats, but I’m willing to bet this month’s rent that those don’t work for you either.

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 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. Some recent popular preachers shun illustrations entirely to the point where, several years in, their advisors corner them to say, “We don’t really know anything about you.”

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.

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October 31, 2016

Luther and the Lion – The Totally True Story of Halloween

I know I ran one of Aaron’s posts just 9 days ago, but this one seemed so timely. Click this link to read at source.

It all started almost 500 years ago. Once upon a time there was a little boy named Martin Luther.

wittenberg

Martin was very poor, as were all the boys in his village. They were poor because every year a scary Lion from Rome would visit and take all the village’s money. Lion would go into All Saints’ Church (or All Hallows’ Church), stand at the top of the bell tower, and mightily roar,

“I am Lion! Hear me roar!
Give your gold! Give me more!
I won’t stop until you do!
You won’t sleep until I’m through!”

This scared Martin and all the children very much. So every year the families would go to All Hallows’ Church one by one and knock on the door. Lion would make them say “Purgatory or treat,” because if the village did not give Lion his treats, he would not give them indulgences.

Martin decided that he had had enough of this. He decided that he would stop Lion. That year, Lion came at the time of the harvest and locked himself in the church and demanded his treats, roaring,

“I am Lion! Hear me roar!
Give your food! Give me more!
I hold the Keys, I stand on the Rock!
Until you admit it, I won’t stop!”

Martin knew he would need help to stop Lion, so he went to visit his friend Calvin. Calvin was a sad and lonely boy who spent most of his day reading books, but he was very smart and clever.

calvin

Martin knocked on Calvin’s door and said, “I am going to stop Lion and kick him out of our village! You are so very clever. What shall we do?”

Calvin opened the door and said,
“Silly Martin. You can’t stop Lion.
He’s so very strong, it’s not even worth tryin’.
If God wants to do it then in time He will,
And if He does not then I won’t waste my skill.”
For Calvin was clever and very well read,
But also quite lazy, and left not his bed.

Martin needed someone else to help him to stop Lion, so he went to visit his other friend Wycliffe. Wycliffe was clever but moreover quite active. Wycliffe had learned to speak Lion’s language and secretly shared Lion’s books with the villagers. Surely he would help!

wycliffe

Martin knocked on the door and said, “I am going to stop Lion and kick him out of our village! You are so very clever and active! What shall we do?”

zwingli

But it was not Wycliffe who came to the door.
“I’m so very sorry, but please stay outside.
I’m sorry to say that my brother has died.
We did not pay Lion so he’ll come for us,
But it was nice to meet you. My name is Jan Hus.”
Wycliffe and Jan – They were both bold and smart.
But sadly for them, Lion’s teeth were too sharp.

Martin started off, but before he could go
Jan Hus said, “There’s one little thing you should know
My brother found out, before he got sick,
The Lion is lying – Purgatory’s a trick!”

Martin was very sad. He simply had to stop Lion but Wycliffe was gone, Jan would be soon, and Calvin was just too lazy. Martin almost gave up but then, on the last day in October, he had a brilliant idea!

“I can’t outsmart Lion. He can’t be out-dared.
But what if, I wonder, he were to be scared?”

So Martin went to visit his last friend, Zwingli. He knocked on the door and said, “Zwingli! I am going to stop Lion and scare him out of our village!”

zwingli-not-hus

Zwingli opened the door and asked, “How?”
Martin explained how they’d chase out the Lion.
Martin would dress up and then terrify him!
They took to the kitchen and chopped up his hair
And made him look sickly, his head’s top was bare.
Lion would run, thinking Martin a nut,
For no one is sane who has that hair cut.
Lion would tremble and Lion would flee
And the people of Wittenberg would then be free!

Dressed up as a complete lunatic,  Martin went to All Hallows’ Church. Lion roared from the tower,

“I am Lion! Hear me roar!
Give your soul! Give me more!
I don’t care if there’s a recession!
I have apostolic succession!”

luther

Martin knocked on the door, refusing to stop
Until Lion arrived on the 95th knock.
The doors opened wide with an ominous creak.
And Lion growled out, “Purgatory or treat!”
“Trick or treat!” The bald boy said,
Yelling quite loudly and showing his head.
The Lion was frightened, his eyes filled with dread.
“What is wrong with your hair!?” He shouted and fled.

Then Martin called out to the people nearby,
“Good news, everyone! Purgatory’s a lie!
We’re saved from our sins only by grace
And the Righteous, from this day on, shall live by faith!”

The people of Wittenberg shouted and applauded and that winter was the most joyful winter in years! Lion tried to come back every year, but the people of Wittenberg would knock on All Hallows’ Church’s door dressed as monsters to scare Lion away. They named the day “Hollowe’en,” after Lion’s hollow doctrine. In later years, they discovered they could scare Lion using images carved into hollowed-out pumpkins. Calvin always left his house a mess of pumpkin guts, but his brother Jacob was always there to clean up Calvin’s messes.

Wycliffe and Jan were gone, but the village built a library in their honour and filled it with all kinds of books! Martin and Zwingli remained good friends, but occasionally disagreed over the health benefits of juice and crackers.

And for the next 499 years, the village was free and happy and peaceful, apart from the occasional party on Azusa Street which the village was mostly okay with it. And that’s the true story of Halloween.

door

Happy 499th birthday, Protestantism!

 

 

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.

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