Monday, September 2, 2013

The Problem with Metaphors

My pastor shared a powerful metaphor yesterday during worship service. It is taken from Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth, where the rich members of the community were mistreating the poorer members during shared Eucharist meals. Paul encouraged that group to remain united and filled with God's love:

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20, NRSV)

The Metaphorical Body:

What makes a metaphor effective? It's when the metaphor takes two well-known objects and places them beside each other, thus creating new insight or understanding. In this case, parts of the body are compared to members of a church.

I love this metaphor because we all get it; not all of us are gifted speakers, or skilled administrators, or gentle counselors. Constantly comparing ourselves to others will only lead to depression and burnout. But Paul assures us that a community contains a diversity of personalities and talents. What a relief that we don't have to excel in every possible role.

Just like body parts, every person serves a vital purpose. Think how silly it would be to have a kidney lying on the ground by itself. Body parts show their true value when they're participating in the larger system of the body.

My Sad Realization:

For most of the sermon I sat back, enjoying the artistry of Paul's writing and the eloquence of my pastor's preaching. But then, inevitably, I reached that always-dangerous moment when I apply the biblical truths I'm hearing to my own life. I know, I know, what was I thinking?

If only I had kept applying the truths to others lives. There's safety in looking away from oneself; and it's easy enough to identify the talents of others. She's an eyeball, able to discern the truth of things with a quick glance. He's a hand, always serving others with their physical needs. Surely I too am a noble and exalted body part, right?

Sadly, the realization hit me right there in my metaphorical twin. I am the gurgling stomach. On a good day I take large concepts and break them down into smaller, easier-to-understand bits that others gain sustenance from. I do almost all of my work behind the scenes (and actually prefer it that way, I shy away from the spotlight). And while there are times I try to get the body's attention about its need for more sustenance, it probably comes across as a gurgle or groan.

You know what, though? After sitting with this realization for a day, I think I'm okay being the stomach. It may not be glamorous. Its noise may be unwanted. But it's a vital role nonetheless.

Metaphors have their Limits:

God's love pours into the body and gives it energy. The body receives this energy. Eventually, the body decides to give a small portion back. The body... (I'm going to say it)... gives back its waste product in the form of our tithes and in the passion of our worship. Just saying! Oh well, God still loves us.

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