The Problem with Metaphors (aka I don’t want bones in my fish)

A long time ago, I was single and my Grandma was worried. She suggested I attend a church I didn’t believe in because they had really great social programs and I might meet someone.

So two things on this: One, gotta’ love my Grandma who was worried I was headed for spinster-hood at 18.

The second, when I say I didn’t believe in it, I don’t mean like it was a Brigadoon church. I mean, I didn’t believe in its doctrine, practices, etc I’m not going to name the denomination for fear that will take the focus away from my point.

Which is????


So my Grandma says that going to church can be like eating fish. You can eat the parts you like and if you find a bone- something you don’t like- you don’t have to eat it.  There’s a motto in 12-step programs that goes “take what you like, leave the rest.” And this exact same metaphor came up again recently from a pastor friend when I was asking some questions.

And that all sounds good because a church is made up of people and people are different so the idea that you’re going to agree with every single thing every single time is ridiculous.

(Though it does give me an idea for a drinking game…every time you hear something you don’t like,  you take a drink. And if you leave drunk, maybe it’s time to move on down church row.)

So I SO TOTALLY GET we need room for diversity and not choke on all the bones, just pick them out and lay them politely aside on the edge of your plate. Unlike the first time I was served trout with the head still attached. I did not handle that with anything resembling politeness. Why is it in the fanciest of places they don’t cut that off?

But I also think this metaphor has its limits. And ALL metaphors do, which is the problem with metaphors (see, the point is in sight). They are not one size fits all or even as the new phrasing on clothing tags goes “one size fits most”.

Often when metaphors are held up and examined from multiple angles, they reveal their limits.

So the fish/bone one is a problem if it is keeping us silent in the church.

And leading the church as a whole-as an institution- to mistake our silence for agreement.

In our effort to be polite, not cause a fuss (for fear someone might spit in our dessert?), we sit silently in the pew.

We keep quiet about concerns, issues, questions…fears, doubts,problems…mistakes and injustices.

I have been silent. I have not been silent. And I have walked out.

None of those actions were comfortable.

But I only look back on my silence with regret.

Because my silence did not go down well. I felt the it poking me in the throat and rather than hack it up, I just kept swallowing, hoping it would slide down. And my silence labeled me as someone in agreement with harsh judgement, exclusion, and Bush for president (politics in the pew is a particular sharp bone for me).

My Grandpa was a wonderful fisherman. One time we ate fish filled with bones. We never ate so slow because each bite had to be held up to the dining room light looking for the potential hazards. And we each had a neat pile of skeletal remains laying on the edge of our plate. My Grandpa leaned over to the guy who cleaned the fish and said, “Next time, let me show you how to do it so you get the bones out.”

The most recent quoting of this metaphor to me actually cleared up the bone completely. I just thought it was a bone, but it was just a trick of the light (or dark depending on how far you want to go with this thing).

But if it is a bone, one we can’t get around or lay politely aside, we may not have to yell, send the plate back, refuse to pay or storm out. We may just need to lean in and say, “You know, there’s a different way. How about I show you?”