Navigating the New Thing (Without a Boat)

Jean Rath

2011-06

I recently read an article about the amount of metaphor that gets used in language, often without us realizing it. A simple statement like “the economy gained traction in the first quarter…” is an example of common metaphorical talk. In trying to give form to abstract concepts, we use concrete images. The power of the image is especially noticed when someone doesn’t understand the concrete image being used. When my mom told us that my Alzheimer dad “got his needle stuck on ‘Take me out to the Ballgame’”, my son, unfamiliar with the (as he put it) “antiquated device”, didn’t know what “got his needle stuck” meant!

Jesus used images to give form to the difficult concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. His images were familiar ones, like seed, yeast and fishing techniques; or alluring ones like buried treasure and jewelry. I have personally found these helpful as I try to live the very present reality that is His Kingdom. Lately, I’ve been faced with another difficult concept-needing-form, one about which I’ve enjoyed many discussions with others. We have been trying to figure out how to refer to a grouping of the Body of Christ (another image!) without using the word “church”.

That word evokes powerful meanings that we don’t want, but which we can’t escape. Unsure what other word to use, we resort to images. One of my friends rightly and picturesquely noted that, “defining house church is like trying to describe the shape of a cloud as it passes overhead on a windy day.” Another friend likened it to trying to put clothes on a mannequin when we can’t see its shape. I have used the metaphor of a river journey to describe the essence of my church experience so far; but I’ve tended to call this latest phase, in which I am washed up on the shore, simply the “New Thing”. This is a lame expression. I would much rather employ an effective image.

I am therefore enjoying the picture provided by a friend; that of the boat-less rudder. Along with the image comes an explanation: “… the rudder represents God’s direction. The absence of a boat is actually a good thing; because without me defining its shape, God can assemble the boat He wants.” It is a rather strange sight, but I am impressed by what Bible-writer James says about the rudder: in the hands of a capable captain, it has the power to direct the course of a large ship under any circumstance.

It seems that my journey is underway again, without a boat but completely with a rudder; and with faith that the boat will take shape according to the image-maker (and image-user) Himself. I’m pleased to find myself on a journey, along with many other people, in which metaphors abound.


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