Having Your Cake on the Other Side of the Fence is Worth a Thousand Words


It’s true that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Of course it’s also true that you can’t eat a cake you don’t have, and whether you eat the cake or not your going to have to eat something else eventually.

It may well be true that a picture is worth a thousand words. So how much is a word picture worth? What if there were no words, only pictures? Would people then draw pictures representing the idea that a word is worth a thousand pictures? Can you think only in pictures, with no words attached? You did before you learned to talk, but evidently that got old…or you wouldn’t be reading this.

I’ve certainly found that you can please some people some of the time but you can never please all the people all the time. I wonder if it’s possible to not please any people any of the time? And how do you even monitor all the people’s pleased-ness level all the time? Is that a paid position or is there a non-profit volunteer agency handling it? …I wonder if they like their job.

We (humans…I strive for nothing if not clarity) are really good at constructing either/or, in/out metaphors and dilemmas. The problem is that these cut-and-dried formulas are often not cut too well and probably should have dried a little longer…or are they too dry? Either way, it’s bad.

It seems that many times we’ll hear a compelling argument for a particular viewpoint, conviction or life-changing product and we get on board. We may even do a little research. But if there is one thing we know, it’s that people who straddle the fence end up walking funny…so buddy, we’re picking a side. Unfortunately, someone else’s research may turn up something we missed and the evidence then compels us to climb back over the fence…you know, greener grass and stuff. Sometimes we’re about half-way over the fence when someone yells from behind us, “No! Don’t do it! Don’t climb that fence!” That is exactly how I got the football shaped scar on my left leg, just below the knee.

No, that is not a detailed metaphor…why would you think that? I seriously have a football shaped scar on my left leg, just below the knee. I got it when I was about 14. I was climbing over a barbed-wire fence (which I did successfully all the time; the secret is to climb right at a fence post and to put your feet on the wire right up against the post…its tighter there) one of the adults – I don’t remember if it was my grandma, Mom, Dad…it doesn’t matter they all felt equally confident in disciplining a wayward child…simpler days…mumble, mumble, hills, snow, barefoot both ways…mumble, something-or-other… Anyway, one of the adults screamed, “What are you doing? Don’t try to climb that fence! Get down now!”

I tried reasoning with them (in my most logical sounding 14 year-old voice) “I’m almost over now.” That was not sufficient logic to persuade Dr. Spock and so I jumped back down the way I came. In the process I snagged one of the barbs and opened a nice big gash. Somehow in the ensuing battle, it was decided that a butterfly bandage was sufficient and stitches would be a waste of time…I think it was to make sure that I’d have a huge scar so that I’d never forget how foolish I was to have attempted to climb the fence. (Yet, had I been left alone I would not have the scar in the first place…)

Even if you’re good at climbing fences (or at least smart enough to climb them in a place not in an adult’s line-of-sight) eventually you’ve got to realize the benefit of things like gates…and not climbing fences all the time. If you constantly need to cross the fence, ask yourself…why do I need a fence here again? Sometimes the fence is necessary…put in a gate. Sometimes the fence is in a stupid place…move the fence. Sometimes the fence metaphor gets old…move on.

I’ve heard people lately debating the “best” method for Bible study. Some people have decided that Lectio Divina and other ancient meditative, experiential reading styles are most beneficial. Others will the offer a rebuttal of determining historical context and seeking to apply a hermeneutic that arises from a sound exegetical reading. Still others think both of these approaches despise the text. The only reading that makes sense is a simple, logical, analytical reading of the literal words…no appealing to outside sources or Eastern mysticism here.

And I’ve only got an hour or so each week that I’m allowed to open the Bible so I better choose one of these quickly and hope it was right. Obviously only one of these approaches can be the correct one – otherwise we’re being lukewarm right? It is very clear that when the letter to Laodicea was recorded in Revelation 3, God was condemning anyone who sees value in more than one thing…ever. So, pick one of these three – by the way that means we need to do away with reading for memorization (unless we want to make a case for that being the only way we’ll read)…and I guess we should stop singing songs written from Biblical text.

The truth is that there is value in all these ways of approaching Scripture. We should feed on God’s Word constantly – we should definitely pursue in-depth study to appreciate original context, and then also engage in devotional reading, sometimes in prayer and meditation, or maybe even memorization.

This is true for so many different issues. Is evangelism about the truth claims of God or is it about relationship and healing? Yes. Are there times when one or the other is more appropriate? Yes. Do we need to make a once-and-for-all decision about which is right? No! Are we less committed to Christ if we don’t like to use the word “evangelism”? What?! No!! Are we more committed to Christ if we refuse to use an archaic word like “evangelism”? NO!!!, and stop using emotionally-charged words like “archaic”, you’re just trying to make people angry! sorry.

More often than not, the fence is stupid. There shouldn’t be a side of the fence…the fence is not serving a purpose other than pointless division. Just because your cliché or metaphor sounds good that doesn’t make it useful or accurate…nor does it automatically make the issue a side-choosing affair.

Remember, “Coffee’s always warmer from the pot.”

I made that up…I know, I know, it sounds quite brilliant, but I assure you – nonsense, pure simple nonsense.

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Posted on January 26, 2007, in metaphors, spiritual formation. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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