When I was a child, a bookish, lonely, imaginative kind of child, it should be noted, I created a heroic imaginary persona who lived in a castle on top of an imaginary cloud . As is my habit, I did a fair bit of worldbuilding, thought about the logistics of how such a heavy castle with its landscape would stay afloat and yet appear as an innocent puffy cloud to those on earth below, and came up with various stories about why someone would undertake such a task. While that story, unlike some of my other childhood stories, did not endure until I was old enough to write down my thoughts in earnest, I have at times pondered the symbolic meaning of that choice, being a melancholic person by temperament, for whom clouds have long been a fitting metaphor for my own emotional state, and given that my characteristic approach to dealing with problems is trying to find a vantage point above the problem from which the larger context and picture can be seen without being lost in all of the details, and where a sense of distance can be preserved.
This morning, when I woke up, someone had commented to a post I had written between four and five years ago, wondering if my use of metaphor in that post  was heavy handed. Reading the post again with bleary eyes, since it was not a post whose contents I instantly remembered, it being one of my diary posts from 2011 examining the issue of political behavior and interest from people who claim to be largely apolitical, I noticed only two aspects which could be considered metaphorical. The first example was when I compared the tour I gave to the visiting ministerial dignitary to the tour that King Hezekiah gave to the Babylonian envoys recorded in 2 Kings 20:12-18 and Isaiah 39. Given that the comparison was to the thoroughness of the tour I gave, including every part of the school in Northern Thailand where I taught at the time, I did not consider that a particularly heavy-handed metaphor, but rather a lighthearted one given my love of playfully referring to scripture as part of the context of my own life, certainly by my own standards of playfulness and lightheartedness, at least. The second reference was to the fact that our involvement in the world, while retaining a sense of distance, is an aspect of developing the talents that we have been given, another reference to a familiar passage  where Jesus Christ speaks of His servants trading their talents in the marketplace of the world, and so building up profit to be returned to our master. While that reference may be taken as more heavy-handed, in that our involvement with the world is an area of considerable controversy to those who wish to remain unspotted and preserve their seat in the peanut gallery where they can look down and critique the world’s affairs without getting their hands dirty in doing anything about the world’s problems, I meant it straightforwardly and barely metaphorically at all.
How much weight can a metaphor bear? As someone who regularly draws parallels and connections in widely disparate disciplines and areas of life, much of the way I think inside and express myself externally involves issues of simile and metaphor, in either explicit or implicit comparison and contrast. At times, the comparison is meant to exist on one or two qualities that happen to stand out at the time, and at other times the comparison is designed to be much deeper, with multiple complicated layers of interrelation and meaning, where the full understanding of the connection that is being made depends on a great deal of personal knowledge, but where several of the layers have a meaning that is somewhat straightforward, at least. Yet there are times where a metaphor may be chosen that has levels of symbolic meaning that are not intended to be drawn as parallels to a given person or situation. How are we to tell what sort of comparison is made, on which levels, and which meanings are intended, permissible, and strictly forbidden or inapplicable to the reader or listener or interpreter?
Many people misleadingly claim that Jesus Christ spoke in parables because parables expressed deep truths in prosaic and familiar images of farming and life in villages and small towns that his audience could relate to rather than the dry and formal language of intellectuals and scribes with their musty and inaccessible book learning . Yet not only was this not Jesus’ point, it was specifically contrary to His point. Jesus Christ did not speak in such a way that others would be able to easily understand His message. On the contrary, He spoke in such a way as to be deliberately obscure. As it is written in Mark 4:10-13: “But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that ‘seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.’ And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?”
At this point, Jesus goes on to explain the parable of the sower and the seed, or the soils, which is a parable about the different sorts of hearts that people have when they are given the word, and that the success of evangelism depends on the state of the heart that hears the Word of God, something that the sower has no control over. The crowd that heard the metaphor did not get an explanation, only those who were puzzled but intrigued and curious about the mysterious and enigmatic message and then chose to ask Jesus Christ what it meant later on. This is the key. The parables of Jesus Christ were not meant to be transparent, but were meant to be mysterious and enigmatic, as a way of testing the audience to determine if they would simply mark the sayings as confusing and difficult and go about their ways, or if their curiosity would be piqued so that they would wrestle with the enigmas and riddles and seek to understand what was being meant. It is this difference in response, between those who were caught up in life’s affairs and unable to think about what was important, or those who were easily deterred because the message was not handed to them straightforwardly and because they lacked the interest in understanding what was meant, and those who understood there was more that they did not understand but wanted to grasp, which led them to ask questions and seek understanding and knowledge, to whom such things were given.
Without seeking to claim that I possess the words of life, nevertheless I too write in such a way that is very often deliberately enigmatic. There are a variety of reasons for this, which I do not care to discuss in detail. Be that as it may, my way of writing deliberately is layered and complex . To be sure, there are people who read the straightforward meaning and agree or disagree. There are those who know I am being deliberately obscure about something and let it pass as something too confusing for them to understand but not something they want to know, others that understand a layer or two and think they have understood everything I was trying to say, and still others who know they do not understand but who want to know what I am getting at, and these people actually ask me what I mean. Unlike the person who commented on my post early this morning, they do not ask as an accusation, having already come to a judgment, but ask because they frankly confess their lack of knowledge and want to know, and to such people who are genuinely curious I am generally willing to tell. Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you, and all that.
If we live honestly and sincerely, our manner of living will present a riddle to the world around us. Many will be unobservant, even spectacularly so, about the mystery we present, but others will be curious, and that curiosity will drive them to ask questions and present friendly opportunities for discussions about why we believe and behave as we do, to which we can then give an answer, and provide food for thought for other people to reflect upon later on. Without ever deliberately going about seeking the attention of the world, our lives and example will give us more attention than we possibly desire. Our candor and sincerity will mark us as eccentric and unusual, as clearly marching to the beat of a different drum, and though there will be some who are frightened by this and envious of this and will therefore abuse and attack us, there will be others who are encouraged and inspired by the quiet rebelliousness of people who are simply who they are in a world that prizes façade and conformity while it claims to seek freedom. In such a way, even our lightheartedness can carry the crushing weight of symbol and meaning, but not a weight that is designed to be a burden for others, but rather the sort of dignity and importance that comes from layers of meaning that provide a depth to even that may appear to the casual observer as a trifle of no particular importance. Let us be people of such depth who reward investigation and curiosity and interest, and whose lives are a mystery simply waiting to be read, and a puzzle waiting to be solved.
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