>Often the way we think about something dictates what we think about it. That is why our framing metaphor is so powerful.
A question I love to ask is whether Jesus, if he were teaching today, would use technological examples or if he would still use farming examples. I love to play around with this idea and sometimes I take it one way, sometimes I take it the other.
Today, I want to go in a little bit different direction with it. I got thinking the other day that Jesus never said ‘ the kingdom of heaven is like a chariot’. He never said ‘ if you drink this living water you will become like a Roman aqueduct’. Both of those would have been workable analogies. They were both examples of fine engineering and ingenuity.
Instead he spoke of soil and plants and birds. I have been thinking about the implications of that lately. I love the earth. I am more aware than ever if of the biological nature of my existence and the inter-connection that humans have to nature.
I have also noticed that often when people speak about modern ministry or spirituality they use machine or technology examples. I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with that. Often the organizations and structures that we are working in & talking about are human inventions and constructions. So using analogies of inventions and construction fits. If we are talking about institutional change and we want to use an analogy of a house, that may work. That’s not my concern.
My concern is in relation to community and spirituality. I think that organizations are more like organisms than machines. I also see that spirituality is not mechanistic or technological as much as it is organic and dirt-y at the ‘ground’ level.
The word that has got me thinking about this is the word “results”. The question is how do we get different results? Sometimes it comes in this slightly different form of how do we measure success? But that too is results oriented.
In the past month this has shown up in three distinct scenarios. The first was a pastor who wants to make changes in his congregation. The second is a couple who wants to see something different in their marriage. The third is a woman who has a desire for renewed vitality in her spiritual life.
In my conversation with all three of them a discernible pattern emerged. Fundamentally, they wanted to be able to pull out the ‘part’ that wasn’t working and quickly install a replacement part. If a car analogy was used it would be like requesting a new transmission so that ‘we can get back on the road again’. If it was a factory analogy it was so that ‘we can get up and running again’ or ‘get back to business’.
The problem, as if I even needed to say it, is that congregations, marriages and souls are not produced on assembly lines or in factories. And I know that is not what anyone meant to say. It’s just that the analogy was breaking down because the metaphor was not just insufficient but increasingly unhelpful.
So I want to suggest a different metaphor – and old classical: A Plant.
instead of ‘results’ we will talk about flowers or fruit. If you want to bring about different or better flowers there are three other things that you need to be concerned with first: the roots, the stem and the leaves.
Even more important is to realize that this will be a process and that process will take a while. This is why we have seasons. So wisdom is to know which season you are in and to adjust your expectations accordingly.
The roots absorb nutrients and ground the plant for stability. The stem provides structure and strength as well as healthy exchange between the elements. The leaves absorbed sunlight and convert energy.
This analogy works for congregational, relational and spiritual changes.
It helps to verbalize and analyze what our roots are grounded in.
It is essential that we acknowledge the frameworks that hold up the structure, gives shape to us and allow for healthy transfer. This is the conversation about the stem.
When we talk about the leaves we talk about how we are receiving from above (or outside) and how that is being converted to energy.
All three of these conversations happen before we ever address ‘getting different results’. A forth conversation then is ‘what season is it?’ It is time to rest and recharge (winter)? It is time to plow and plant (spring)? Is it time to water and watch (summer)? It is time to prepare for harvest time?
The flower is ultimately a result of health and an expression of life that gives the capacity for more life.
A friend of mine who does marriage counseling told me an interesting story last week. A couple had come in who were just not doing well. In this particular session the husband was being quite vocal about his displeasure with his wife. My friend finally stopped them and said “You have come here because you want me to fix this. Like you take your car to the mechanic, puts it up on the lift and swaps out the part that isn’t working for an identical one ordered from a catalog or that he got from a warehouse, then you pay him and go right back to what you were doing before. But that is not going to happen. You’re wife is sending you signals and trying to tell you that she is not being nourished, she does not feel safe and that she wants a partner who participates in the health of your marriage. You think that the engine is just fine and that everything is running fine — if you just to get a different transmission so that the power transferred back then you could move forward. You want this to be over quickly so that you can get back to business as normal. She is telling you that you are months away from harvest. You need to wake up and figure out what season you are in. There is no sense in acting like it’s close to harvest when you are in winter buddy. Your wife is asking you to turn over soil and plant with her and water your relationship. You want to snap in a new part and be on your way.’
We often pick the analogies, word pictures and metaphors because of how we envision something or what we want to happen. They are revealing. They tell us something.
My only suggestion out of all of this is that when we are talking about something that God made – like the Church and relationships and soul… that we use analogies from things that God made like soil and plants and seasons. They go together so naturally.