Tag Archives: parable

Discerning the future: the Parable of the Jelly Shoe and the Gecko

Asleep in a sparsely furnished bedroom in a Nepali flat I became aware of something running over my uncovered body.  My mind jumped quickly into action to interpret this audacious invasion of my night privacy, and presented my now-conscious mind with an image of the invader:  it was a pink jelly shoe.

A cerise jelly shoe, made of rubber strips, cool, flexible and waterproof.  Was running across my stomach and up my arm, and gone.

I shot out of bed, fumbled for a light switch and my glasses (not sure in what order), and looked for the offending piece of footwear.  No shoe.  Nothing pink at all.  But half-way up the wall, moving at speed, was a gecko.  An ordinary Nepali gJelly shoe or ..... ?ecko who probably thought of me as the intruder.

I often think about this encounter when I’m trying to discern what God is up to.  We receive impressions, intuitions, images and inexplicable urges in the process of trying to allow the Holy Spirit to direct us into the newness that is coming.  But if it is truly a new newness, something that hasn’t been before, then our finite human brains have no way of conceptualizing or naming it.  All our minds can do is find an approximate comparison based on our previous experience for the idea that’s housed in the mind of God.

Which is what happened to me in Nepal.  All my brain could do when my body got in the way of the gecko’s path was interpret what had happened as closely as possible in the light of its existing bank of experience.  And my brain decided to choose a jelly shoe as an approximate comparison to convey the idea of a creature that was rubbery, quick, flexible and probably impregnated with glitter!  An amazing piece of neur0-gymnastics….

And a great metaphor for what goes on when God tries to communicate to us what is in his mind for our future.  He has in mind a gecko – but we’ve never seen a gecko.  So we perceive a jelly shoe. Some important information is passed on in this transaction – something new we’ve never seen, something moving across a landscape, lithe motion, and robust but malleable sparkly material.  But the facts cannot be accurately translated and misunderstandings are bound to arise – we might try to put the gecko on our foot and wear it to the beach or to the ball.

It seems this is the nature of God-human communications, even at their most finely-tuned.  We see it in the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah.  God had in mind a new, unrepeatable kind of human being and revealed him to the prophets, who reached for words and metaphors to express what they understood.  But people had never met a Messiah, a Godman.  So they interpreted the prophecy in the light of their bank of experience, and came up with the idea of a Maccabean Jelly Shoe Saviour rather than a Messianic Gecko One.

Trying – with many of you – to discern the medium and the message for present and future generations, I am increasingly awGeckosare of the disconnect between what God shows us and what we understand.  We need to handle our intimations circumspectly, aware of all that will be lost in translation.  And we can expect to to be surprised because when the newness comes we will see both the authenticity and accuracy of the communication, as well as the difference between the idea we received and the emerged reality, which will I expect be as distinct from each other as a gecko from a jelly shoe.


Sequel to the prequel

Thought I’d better just say a few words about compost!

It surprises me how little the church needs to do in fact to soften the soil.Just being nice can be enough.  No, really.  Friendliness, openness, humility.  Being involved in the life of the community, remembering people’s names, acting as if the tragedies of other people mattered.  Appreciating the demands on other people’s time.  Getting on with each other.  Doing what you’ve said you’ll do.  Offering words of appreciation.  Valuing someone’s contribution.  Smiling.  Yes, really.  Serving in small ways.  Sharing of yourself.  Telling the truth.  Laughing!  …Nooo, not really?!!  Responding to suggestions.  Admitting mistakes.  Facilitating good times together.

We don’t have to solve the problem of poverty in our community (although that would be ideal) or heal all the sick (wouldn’t that be great?).  We just have to be approachable, trustworthy, warm individuals.  And people will start to listen.


The Parable of the Sower: the prequel

What happened before the sower went out to sow?

I could make pots out of the soil in my garden.  It’s clay.  There’s no other description for it – it just needs to be moulded and fired, and I could eat fish and chips off it.  It’s useless as stuff to plant things in – you put a fork in the ground and the turned lumps of earth are like sticky irregular cricket balls that defy the laws of gravity and cling to the fork prongs rather than falling back in the hole where they belong.  Breaking it down into particles small enough to cuddle a young plant is a labour of Hercules; you chop down the hunk of clay into smaller chunks and it immediately re-combines itself into a glutinous mass that would smother life sooner than nurture it.

Didn’t Jesus know about compost?  I don’t know how many hundredweight it’ll take to make my soil plantworthy.  Of course nothing grows in it.  Nor does anything much grow in the builder’s rubble I call a vegetable patch next to the garage full of DIY and gardening kit.  Before the sower went out to sow, surely he spent hours ploughing up the clumpy earth, sending his labourers to pick out all rocks and stones, pulling up the weeds that were likely to throttle the seedlings, and digging in manure?  Why doesn’t Jesus tell us what happened before the sower went out to sow?!

It’s relevant because some of the people we live among are like my garden clay.  It’s not that they don’t want to receive the seed, it’s just that they’re going to need a lot of preparation before it’s possible.  Leading a baptism on Sunday, I think I heard someone stifle a snigger when I said getting to know Jesus was a good reason for exploring God’s kingdom.  And I wondered: if I could download a schematic from their brain of what that name conjured up, what would it show?  Possibly a string of swear words and a man in a long white dress?

Some people are unchurched to the third or fourth generation, and have no idea what Christianity is about at its heart.  They’re going to need a lot of compost to break down the skewed scornful media messages that form people’s image of Jesus.   Some people have been hurt by religious institutions in the past – an elderly man I recently met at a wake told me he was permanently scarred by the harsh discipline he received as a child at the hands of teachers at his church school.   Healing these hurts with loving kindness is like removing sharp stones and scraps of broken concrete from the soil.  And we need to pull up the weeds of mistrust: these are self-seeded from the widely-reported wrong-doing church individuals and institutions have committed in the past.

You can only do a little of this at a time – it’s back-breaking work that takes a lot of patience.  So each church and each individual disciple needs to prepare the ground square by square in their own back yard: people trust their Christian friends and their local church when they don’t trust ‘religion’ because they’ve pinched and prodded us and seen what we’re made of.  This is before we do any real planting.

Obviously Jesus knew about preparing the ground…  he had John the Baptist to do soil-shifting on a grand scale what with lowering mountains and filling in valleys and suchlike.  I think we need to identify the people groups of clay in our society, and start preparing the soil.  No expectation yet of fruit.  Seeds will bounce.  Bring on those who will give their time to doggedly preparing the ground for planting.