For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘metaphors

I had a dream last night about this post, and about a new metaphor for pastors. We are preachers, teachers, counselors, visitors, business managers, supervisors, coaches, cheerleaders, leadership developers, fundraisers, advocates, biblical scholars, facilities managers, marketing directors, administrators and a dozen other things—often all of the above in the course of a day or week. To that list, I would like to add the title of spiritual personal trainer. (Not that we need more things to do, but I do think that a good metaphor helps us sort out what it is we are doing.)

First of all, the description of the skills needed to be a personal trainer sounds quite similar to a list of pastoral skills:

Personal trainers need to have a multitude of skills. You should be analytical, patient, nurturing, persistent, organized, an effective motivator and, most importantly, a good listener. You should love working with different kinds of people and be a self-motivator. You don’t have to look like a body builder to be a fitness trainer, but you should definitely lead a healthy lifestyle to be a good role model for your clients. (from about.com)

If you replace fitness training with discipleship or spiritual development, it’s a pretty good match. We pastors do not need to be saints, but we should definitely  have a healthy spiritual life to be a good role model for our churches.

What does a personal trainer do? Personal fitness trainers work with individuals on developing a healthy lifestyle through improved diet and exercise. They help people identify their own goals for their body and develop a plan for growing into those goals, encouraging and challenging them along the way. They have a reputation of pushing people beyond what they perceive as their own capacity. People sometimes get angry at their trainers for pushing so hard, demanding so much—but they praise them for the results and for helping them become more and better than they could be on their own.

The body we are training is not the physical body, but it is the Body of Christ. We are working the various muscle groups and strengthening the core so that we can better serve God in this world.

I think this metaphor is especially apt as we work with church leaders. We have the opportunity to work with leaders to set personal spiritual goals and then to live up to them. We can challenge them to grow in prayer, in communication, in evangelism. We help them tend to various parts of the Body of Christ and keep all the parts working together as a whole.

My church is preparing to enter a capital campaign. We will be asking people to make a sacrificial gift to our church in order to help us renovate our building and move into what we believe God’s vision is for our future. We will be asking people to stretch themselves, to act in faith, to dig deeper than we have in a generation. As pastor-who-is-personal-trainer, I want to challenge them to do more than they think they can do, to exercise greater generosity (even if it hurts a bit), to exceed their own expectations. The exercise of growing in generosity will, I believe, strengthen our Body in faith, commitment and connection to Christ, and equip us to serve God more effectively in the future.

I am imagining myself as a personal spiritual trainer, building up the Body of Christ. What do you think? Does this metaphor make sense to you?

I was a local gas station waiting to fill up my cup at the soda fountain. A woman and her young daughter were ahead of me, and the mother was apologizing for her daughter’s slowness. I assured her I was in no hurry, and she responded by saying, “Well, she’s just as slow as Moses all the time.”

I am pretty sure this was a malapropism, and she intended to refer to the common saying, “slow as molasses.” Moses and molasses do sound alike, even though they don’t look much alike.

Molasses

Moses (or Charleton Heston, anyway)

My first thought was “what’s so slow about Moses?” But then I realized—everything is slow about Moses. Remember the 40 years in the wilderness? The time it takes to pour molasses from a jar has nothing on that.

Molasses is slow because of its viscosity. Such a thick, sticky liquid just can’t move any faster. Moses was a leader of a viscous people. They were clingy, sticky, complaining, resistant to change, and reluctant to move anywhere. It took them 40 years to pour out of Egypt and into the promised land, as they learned in that wilderness time in between how to trust God, live as a community, make decisions and take responsibility, mature in their leadership and actions, and found a new society together. They just could not move any faster.

The work of change in human communities is painfully slow, and it takes lifetimes, generations. My passion is to work on this kind of communal change and reorientation in the church, but I imagine that, like Moses, it will take my entire career, which I hope will span more than 40 years. Because the work of leading change is as slow as Moses.

Today, I took B with me to visit two church members at a  local (Catholic) nursing home. As we were leaving, he pointed out the window.

B: Hey! God is here! They have God here!

Me: What do you mean? Where do you see God?

B: Right there! Look! It’s God!

Me: You mean that statue?

B: Yes! That’s a statue of God.

This is what we saw from the window.

Here is the progression of my thoughts and feelings at that moment:

  • Fascination, to see what my little guy imagined God to be.
  • Delight, at his proclamation, “God is here! They have God here!”.
  • Sadness, to realize that already, in spite of my best efforts to offer contrary images, he already pictures God in classic renaissance human imagery.
  • Intrigue, to query him about exactly why he thought that was God.
  • Amusement, to get a closer look at the statue and realize that it was quite effeminate, like a fairy with angel wings.
  • More amusement, when I realized I hadn’t completely failed, because my three-year-old saw a statue of a girl with wings and daisies in her hair and called it God.

Here is a closer view, where you can really see the effeminate, fairy-with-angel-wings characteristics. Especially the daisies in the hair.

In the end, I decided to simply offer my opinion.

Me: I think that looks more like an angel. Angels have wings like that. You know, we don’t really know what God looks like. God is pretty complicated that way. Nobody really knows what God looks like.

B: Yeah. You’re right, actually. (Actually being one of his favorite words.) Actually, that is an angel. Can I run now? Will you race with me?

And we’re back to earth again. Except that as I watch him run gleefully, blissfully down the sidewalk, waving back at outstretched hands from nursing home windows, I think maybe I do know a little something about what God looks like.

Tonight at bedtime, I led B. in the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer. When we finished, he said, “I want another one.” So I started on the Lord’s Prayer, but he interrupted me to remind me, “Hey Mommy, when I was at your church today, they had chips. I really like those chips.”

We had just been talking about his role as a sheep in the pageant next week, so I thought of Psalm 23. He is interested by shepherds, and knows that they protect sheep and lambs, so it seemed like a good approach. I just shared the first few lines, through “God restores my soul.” Trying to explain a metaphor was not easy.

Me: “You know what a shepherd does, right? So if God is like a shepherd, who does God look after? God looks after you–protects you, gives you good food like green grass, and good water to drink. Takes care of everything you need.”

B was nodding affirmatively, so I thought this was making some degree of sense to him. Until he started repeating what he had learned. The conversation went something like this:

B: “But I don’t like water.”

Me: “Yes you do, you just drank water.”

B: “I like that kind of water, but I don’t like the kind of water like sheep drink. That’s yucky.”

Me: “Yes, that’s true. Sheep water would be yucky. But I’m sure God would give you good water you would like.”

B: “So God will be the pretend shepherd and I will be the pretend sheep?”

Me: “Well, not pretend exactly. It’s just that what God does to take care of us is like what a shepherd does to take care of the sheep.”

B: “God is a shepherd–that’s silly. I think I want to be a cat.”


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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