Ah, sweet metaphors. Sweet, sweet metaphors that are dropped into church talks like chocolate in the spiritual trail-mix of words coming out of someone’s mouth at the pulpit on any given Sunday. Sometimes the chocolate might be overly-familiar, but well-loved like an m&m. Other times, it might be chocolate left sitting out like a 1970s Ensign article still covered in that white stuff when the chocolate gets old and exposed to oxygen. And sometimes our metaphors get confused and badly written like chocolate that is carob and this entire paragraph.
But seriously, metaphors and their misunderstood cousins, allegories, are a requisite ingredient to any great Mormon talk. Who can forget “mind the gap”, or how the Gospel is like aviation, and sexual purity like food? I think for April conference, I’ll create a conference Bingo-card devoted just to metaphors and allegories. One row will have childhood experiences, another row will be farm and animal themed, one sports-themed, another food-themed, and another will be for war and army stories. If a metaphor gets confused or mixed in its talk, everyone receives a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for 5 points.
However, what we really should be learning from all this, is how to make our own metaphors so no matter how dull our subject, we can come off with the panache and sophistication of an RM in the eyes of a Beehive. Just take any experience, activity, or even inanimate object and find a similarity it has with a Gospel principle or story. Start with an every-day experience. Like today, I was heading home from a job, and getting off an exit ramp onto the freeway. We had just had 5 inches of snow in a short period of time, and the roads were rather treacherous. As I merged into the quick-moving traffic, I had to drive at a much slower pace than the other cars were going so that I didn’t lose control and turn my vehicle into a chariot of death. The cars behind me were gracious in giving me space to enter the highway safely so I could gradually accelerate. What generosity! Just like the generosity we should give a new or returning member coming into the fold! They’re on the right road, but they need to get their footing safely (and we need to support them at their pace) before accelerating. Otherwise, trying to navigate a new road too quickly just to match everyone’s pace can lead to a loss of control. Also, we shouldn’t cut others off and slam on our breaks just to show them how slow we think they’re going. You’re still being a jerk, even in a metaphor.
OK, now try it with an object! Perhaps your steak-knife was quite dull at dinner tonight, and you couldn’t cut your meat. Meat is used in the New Testament to refer to greater truths and doctrines that can only be learned after we have an understanding of the basics. So my steak-knife’s sharpness could be a metaphor for the need to keep my spiritual senses and practices constant. These activities are like whetting a knife so when I get to the meat of the Gospel, or the greater truths that God is giving me, I am able to make it palatable and savor the experience. Even with a developing stomach, I still need to cut things up to be digestible. A dull knife won’t be able to cut a hunk of truth-meat.
Bam. Build a talk around it.
Perhaps a dinner-table metaphor and those of its ilk seem a bit easy to you. They’re nice, but kind of quaint and old-fashioned, like a church-meeting before iPhones. Well, if you want to be truly original, go for an unpleasant or disgusting object and build around it. They are under-represented and just as capable of teaching eternal truths as pleasant objects! Take maggots, for example. They are little eggs that come from flies which are laid in rotting flesh. When they hatch and start to grow, they eat dead flesh. Because of this, maggots are sometimes used medically to clean wounds. This is like the Young Women values. Our leaders plant these values in us, and at first they are small and barely formed. However as they grow bigger and develop, they eat away at deadening sin, leaving us with clean, healthy, spirit-flesh. These now fattened virtues will grow and eventually spawn new virtues in others, helping to eat away at the rotting sin-flesh in all of us. I can guarantee you the youth will not forget this metaphor. In fact, I am trying unsuccessfully to erase it from my my mind right now.
OK so a friendly warning to be careful doing this, because you might be at risk of actually receiving personal insight or revelation if the metaphor turns out to be particularly pertinent. The knife/meat one I just did has had me smirking, but then thinking about how I need to spiritually prepare myself better, so I can cut-up the personal-sized revelation-steaks I’m so hungry for. I struggle with the little things like whetting the knife and feeding the maggots. GAH! Why did I pick that one? Anyway, on a more personal level, this game not only amuses me, but also reminds me that truth and God can be found everywhere (even in a silly idea) as D&C 88:41 states.
He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever.
So if you’re stuck on a talk, want to sound ponderous and deep, or you just enjoy entertaining yourself with mind-games, pick a mundane or bizarre object and connect its traits to a Gospel principle. Who knows, you might actually learn something about yourself, because after all, what’s a meta…phor? (That joke is courtesy of my dad who really wanted me to use it.)
OK, time for your metaphors! What’s in front of you or just happened to you right now? How would you incorporate it into a talk? Write them below! The best metaphor will be put on a RF bumper sticker after I ask Paul and Michael if that’s OK because I didn’t ask them at all yet.