metaphor

Reading the Bible Like a Zacchaeus

Canadian Lutheran theologian Jann E. Boyd Fullenwieder wrote in Proclamation: Mercy for the World:

Like Zacchaeus of old, we climb up into the scriptures, a great tree of life grafted to the Crucified One’s cross, that we might see Jesus. There we discover that we, too, are seen, named, invited, and welcomed to share the life of God, whom we spy through the branches and leaves of scripture, even as Christ has already spied us.

Photo by  Jon Asato  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Asato on Unsplash

First of all, can we just admire the beauty of Fullenwieder’s language?

Reading the Bible is much less about learning all the nuances of the leaves and branches and much more about an encounter with the Divine. It is less about knowing how to understand the Bible as it is about seeing and being seen by Christ. If our engagement with the scriptures lead us to know more about the Bible but nothing about Jesus Christ then we are just studying dead trees.

If our Bible study is interested in “going deep into the word” then we may very well miss an encounter with Christ as we are busy with our heads in the book.

Perhaps the reason reading the Bible for many of us is boring is that we are reading it like we read a map: for information. Scripture reading is less about the information in the tree and more about looking for God, who knows your name and invites you to join in the journey.

The Faith Trip

Many metaphors make up the language of faith. Anytime someone talks of God, it is through a metaphor. Jesus uses metaphor when describing the kingdom of God. The prophets use metaphors to critique the powerful. Modern Christian teachers use metaphors to help us grasp the work of God today.

One of the metaphors we lean on to describe our growing, dying, maturing and learning is our “faith journey.” The faith journey is a rich metaphor that allows the speaker to utilize additional metaphoric language to paint a fuller picture of the journey. We can talk about a “guide” or a “map” that help us on the way. This is a helpful metaphor to be sure.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Until it is not.

Listening to others talk about their “faith journey” I hear a conviction that the “journey” is headed somewhere specific. Often called “heaven” but sometimes called “peace” or “joy”, the faith journey metaphor builds in it a basic sense that there is a time when we will “arrive” and we have yet to get there. It is also assumed that when we arrive at this destination that all will be better or something.

The power of the metaphor of “faith journey” is neutered when we use the metaphor with a predetermined destination in mind. Having a destination in mind means that we not only are not going on a journey but that we also have little faith.

To go on a journey is to emphasis the process of traveling, not the destination. When we go somewhere, say for vacation or for work, we do not use the word journey to describe it. We say we took a trip to Florida or we have a work trip this week. I have yet to hear anyone say, “I have to journey out for work on Thursday.” Or even, “we journeyed to Disney.”

The language of trip presupposes that the point is the destination. Otherwise why would you leave home at all if not to “arrive” that the destination.

The language of journey presupposes that the point is the process of traveling. It is the process of learning and trusting the guides will take you places that you did not predetermine. It is the language of faith that there are things in the journey that are more important than the destination, if only we were not focused on the destination.

We are on a the faith journey, not the faith trip.

Reviving a Church one Sunset at a Time

Can you discern if this is a sunset or sunrise?   --  Photo by  Johannes Plenio  on  Unsplash

Can you discern if this is a sunset or sunrise?   --  Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Not long ago I found myself in a conversation about how to help local churches embrace the end of different ministries. You know. those ministries that have little vitality and are more of a burden than a blessing. Those things we keep doing to not hurt feelings, keep the tradition alive or other  reasons of nostalgia. I have learned in my context that there are things that people want the church to stop doing, but we do not know how to set the ministry down with dignity so we do never set it down.

Setting ministries down can be a difficult thing, but it is sometimes easier to do when there is a ritual to do so. How does a church ritualize setting a ministry down? One way is through the ritual of sunsets.

At the church I serve sunsets are somewhat common to talk about and all they are is the way we give permission to set a ministry down. Here is how some sunsets look:

  • Finance - when there is money for a project, set a sunset date on that money so that when that date comes and the project is not done it can be asked - is God really calling us to do this project?
  • Small groups - when the group is getting a bit stale, call for a sunset break for a few weeks or months. Then call everyone in the group back together and ask if God desires for the group to continue, continue in a new way, or disband for a new thing. 
  • Annual events - Call for a sunset year where you do not do the festival or fundraiser. Instead, call for a discerning conversation about the reasons God may be inviting a break or a re-imagining of the event.
  • Choirs - take a month off and ask people to pray if God is calling the church to have a choir for the coming year. At the end of the month, if it is clear God is calling for a choir, invite people to consider if God is calling them into the choir for the coming year or not. Those who are not called are free to step away.

I assume you see how the sunset ritual can be used in many different ministries of the church. I have discovered the ritual of sunsets highlight at least two things - liberation and discernment. 

The church is liberated, it is free, to set ministries down in order to do other things. Rest and sabbath is needed for all things - ministries included. People are also free to set away without guilt or shame and the church is free to pick the ministry back up in the future if God desires. How do you know God's desires for ministry? Discernment. 

The pastoral role then is less about drumming up resources for a ministry or being scapegoated when the ministry is set down for a time. The pastoral role is not about green or red lighting different ministries, but about creating the space for the church to listen to God's call in their individual and collective lives. 

Like Parenting, Christianity is Less Carpenter; More Gardener

A few weeks ago Hidden Brain had a wonderful little episode titled Kinder-Gardening. You can listen to the episode to the right if you would like.

If you have not heard this episode, it focuses on two competing metaphors for being a parent: a carpenter and a gardener. Where most of the books parents are encouraged to read and much of the conversation about how to raise children are influenced by the parent as carpenter metaphor, it stands to reason that for most of human history it is the parent as gardener metaphor that has guided us. 

The key difference in these metaphors, as you can imagine, is the locus of control. If a carpenter does the proper work they will get the proper product. The carpenter is a metaphor of control and is the dominate metaphor for living in the United States. Those of us in the United States have a false sense of control in our lives that it is almost laughable at how fragile we are when we are only slightly out of control. Just watch many Americans stand in a line or have to wait for the server to bring the menu, you can see frustration boil over because the lack of control is maddening (I know this all too well myself!).

Photo by  Igor Ovsyannykov  on  Unsplash

The dominance of the carpenter metaphor bleeds into parenting to the point that society believes that raising children is like building a table. Just look at the most popular books on parenting. The carpenter parent metaphor is booming business. However, for anyone who has raised a child you know that there is so much that you cannot control that it is almost laughable to think that anyone could build the proper child to being with! Thus the metaphor of parenting as gardener may be more helpful.

Just as you cannot control the weather, birds dropping odd seeds and bugs eating your fruits, so too you cannot control much of a child: their DNA, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, their friends, etc. Parenting today feels like having to unlearn the carpenter and learn the skill set of the gardener. 

Which leads me to Jesus. 

Jesus was raised by a carpenter and yet the vast majority of his parables use gardening imagery. In fact, other than the parable of the foolish builder in Matthew 7 and again in Luke 6, I could not think of any parable that connected to carpentry. 

It is interesting to me that even Jesus had to unlearn the carpenter and learn the skill of the gardener so to teach God's children how to live. 

Perhaps the invitation is to put down the hammer and pick up the shovel.