Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When is a Parable not a Parable?

Let me be direct and say one only needs to look at the patio to be sure there are problems that still need solving.  There are good suggestions from just about every quarter of the congregation. There is diligent effort on the part several parishioners, Dick Hodgetts principal among them as he more than fulfills his vestry commitment.  There are others and to you all we are grateful.

We will finish the patio's restoration in time and as is becoming increasingly obvious not without the help of donations toward the increased costs.

But the patio and its persistent disarray is also a metaphor, just like the walls and corn in the quote below.  Don't get me wrong.  It's real.  But it means something.  It means something by way of and beyond the troubled process of replacing what had to be removed because we didn't know where the sewer pipe went and we needed the toilets to flush.  It means something that hurrying to get it back to some usable condition left us with more cobbling and danger.  It means something that yet another round of help and suggestion has joined what is already long in consuming the vestry's attention.  It means something that the anxiety level among some -- one is too many when it's people you love -- of our parish elders and patrons is sky high.

Writing about this reminds me of my favorite, Soren Kierkegaard who himself wrote about writing.  Actually he wrote about communicating and meant it to refer also to the preaching he heard on Sundays and the discourse in the streets and parlors of Copenhagen.

One of his consistent concerns was the value of indirect communication as compared to the direct kind.  He saw the ready resistance to truth,  especially the self critical kind in the church and the sad substitutes that were offered.  His geese parables are sad depictions of a population preferring to be told what they have already determined to hear so much so that they will reduce greater truths to match their prejudice and fear.

So Soren intentionally often avoided directly addressing "issues" and instead wrote metaphorically and parabolically, under pseudonyms.  His hope was that the truth as he understood and felt compelled to present it would slip through the filters with which those waddling christians had grown accustomed to protecting themselves and their interests.  Here's one of those parables.
"A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it.  Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk. One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. 'My fellow travellers on the way of life,' he would say, 'can  you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence?
I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.
The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. 'How poetical,' they thought. 'How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.' Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.
And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher's message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!"
Soren Kierkegaard
We are always at risk -- no matter the challenges our world presents us -- to succumb to the perceived comfort of the known, to the good corn and the high walls.  Think "the way things used or ought to be."  Even when corn is not our natural or best nourishment and walls not the best encouragement to grow and learn.  

But according to Kierkegaard's parable we are often more at risk because of HOW we hear than we are by what we hear.  Accordingly, I have more than once used metaphors or stories about others not of this community to get at ideas or issues, indirectly.  To not trigger your filtering, to not blame, to not embarrass.

But based on my reading of the above parable its a mistake for me to think that I have that much influence over your filters.  We are going to hear what we choose to hear,  especially since I have no coercive capacity or intent.

And also we do not have the luxury of measureless corn or impenetrable walls.  I no longer have the luxury of visiting you from Athens. So . . . directly, I say we have an historic property that is aging faster than are we.  We have a budget that is constrained beyond its intent to fund upkeep of this property.  We have important members of our parish upset and worried that the walls are tumbling and corn is being wasted.

I'll save directly addressing my own role and performance to another occasion.

For now,  I'm saying that Kierkegaard's direct communication is not only our complaining that "we've not managed the repair of the patio and other matters in a well prioritized manner," it is also our saying "the patio is a metaphor that shows us we are choosing how we listen to and love one another."

Thank goodness Kierkegaard's geese parables don't describe some terrible destructive outcome.  Though perhaps even more sadly he describes geese not flying.  For us that would be not only not restoring the patio but also not talking to each other about how anxious and troubled many of us are.

So . . .  let's talk about talking and let's all talk to each other about our fears and anxieties, our broken dreams and greater awakenings.  Let's talk about the patio and let's talk about flying.

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