Analogies, parables, allegories, metaphors, similes. All are meaningless without experience. When I hear that Jesus is the “Good Shepherd”, it means nothing if I don’t know what a shepherd is. However, if I am familiar with ovine culture, there are subtleties of meaning and understanding to be discovered beyond “Jesus cares about you and will take care of you”.
Since I don’t know any shepherds personally, my understanding is limited to what I’ve been told and it’s going to be different from someone who actually knows a shepherd and/or or some sheep. Once we know that there is greater understanding to be gained by comparing the familiar with the foreign, we can see allegories and analogies everywhere. We can understand math by counting apples, cities by studying insects, the solar system by studying atoms. Folk tales, myths and legends become the basis for understanding complex spiritual principles.
I saw this demonstration of metronomes attached to a flexible base, then started randomly, and eventually falling in sync. My first thought was “Wow, that’s just like the church! If we are not too dogmatic in our beliefs, (flexible base) and we’re tuned in to the same frequency, (honestly following spiritual promptings in search of truth) we can achieve unity! cool!” (click here to see demonstration)
Then the cynic in my head said, “Yeah, but it could also mean that a cultural group without a commitment to true guiding principles (flexible base) will tend towards conformity and eventual lock-step towards the exclusion of anyone who is different.”
These conclusions come easily from my experience and both bring up interesting questions. In the search for answers lies the value of analogy, allegory, metaphor, etc. For instance: What is the value of individuality in religious culture? If one metronome was knocked out of sync, how long would it take to return? Would it affect the others around it? Would it affect the meter of the whole group? what if there were more? Less? What if the bases of two separate groups came into contact? I’m sure you have come up with more questions as you have been reading, but these are MY questions, MY conclusions based on MY experience.
I like the first analogy better, how about you? Can we achieve unity by being flexible in our foundational beliefs while maintaining similar values? or will the concentration of flawed cultural sensibilities turn us all into…sheep?