Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Metaphor and Mass Extinctions on a Sunday

Our church has been doing a series of experiments with one of our services.  We've been trying to make it more interactive, less easy for people to just sit there and be more like audience than worshipper.

On this past Sunday, we experimented with metaphor and art.  Our Bible reading for Sunday, the first day of Advent, was John 1:1-3, an excellent introduction to metaphor. God as word: certainly I can relate to that. But if I was a painter, would I want God to be described as paint on a canvas? We talked about this a bit in our small groups as we completed yesterday's art exercise.

We had a big sheet of paper on which we wrote all the things in our world which give light: flashlights, the sun, light bulbs, things like that. We were allowed to write and/or to draw.

Then we had two pieces of paper, one white, one black. On that paper, we drew an image that represents Christ. We were allowed to go with something traditional, like a manger or a cross. Or we could be more metaphorical.

My group was composed of 2 English major types, 1 scientist, and 3 teenagers (actually, one may be in his early 20's). We had no trouble coming up with a variety of possibilities. My contribution? I said that Jesus is like an asteroid.

My group asked me how I came up with that idea. I talked about Apocalyptic Planet, the book by Craig Childs that I'd been reading which talks about a variety of extinctions that the planet has experienced. I talked about the asteroid that crashed into the earth and how that asteroid is thought to be responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. The extinction of the dinosaurs made it possible for smaller mammals, like humans, to find a foothold and achieve prominence.

One of the people in my small group, the other English major type, said, "You're reading that for fun?"  I often forget how strange my reading choices are.  She's a friend, so she said it fondly. 

We continued discussing the idea of Jesus as an asteroid.  If it's a big asteroid event, it's violent.  We agreed that the violence of that event was problematic. Jesus wipes out the big animals, like the dinosaurs? I said, "Jesus comes to wipe out the dinosaurs of hate to make room for the animals of love to take hold."

But a small asteroid event is also problematic as metaphor.  Small asteroids bounce harmlessly off our atmosphere.  If Jesus was this kind of asteroid, does that work symbolically?

We had fun discussing these ideas, along with other possibilities.

In the end, our group artist drew a lamb standing on an asteroid. We cut out the image and did a shadowbox kind of thing with the two colors of paper.

Why white and black? We talked about colors that reflect light and colors that absorb light and what that has to do with Jesus and the way we respond to him along with the way he responds to us.

I must confess, it's the art exercise in which we participate that I remember most vividly. Putting together a drama that demonstrates a Bible story (the house built on sand, the house built on rock) or writing a haiku or drawing an image--that stays with me longer than a sermon, longer than a song, longer than the discussions that led up to the finished project.

My brain is not alone in this approach.  It's something to think about, for those of us still lucky enough to have teaching jobs and the time to make the classroom an optimal experience.    There are neurology and education experts who would tell us that for every 10 minutes of discussion and/or lecture, there should be something more interactive, something that makes everyone a participant.  We hold on to what we learn better that way.

In the meantime, maybe I'll play with this idea in a poem.  Jesus as asteroid--hmm. What's that tail of intergalactic dust burning up behind him?  Hmmm.  Actually, comets have tails of cosmic dust.  Maybe I have more thinking to do.

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