For some unfathomable reason I woke up thinking about parables this morning. So, this post might be a little heavy on the parable and metaphor. Also, this will not constitute some kind of introductory class on what parables and metaphors are. If you need that, go get educated before you get into the weeds here. Barring an apocalypse of any severity, this post should still be here when you get back.
The parable I woke up thinking about – and why my brain decided to deconstruct it while half awake I’ll never know – was the parable of the seed. It’s probably got a proper name that I am too de-caffeinated to currently recall. But briefly, the parable goes like this: a farmer had some seed. Some he threw on the rocks, and the birds ate it. Some he threw on dry earth, and the seed withered. Some he threw on to rich soil and the seeds grew and prospered/ flowered, etc…
If you’ve even heard of Sunday School, you’ve probably heard this parable.
We are told, maybe, eventually, what the parts of the parable are supposed to represent: the seed = God’s love, the various landscapes are the various hearts/ minds of people. So, we are meant to understand that only a certain type of disposition can be receptive to The Word, God’s Love, Divine Light, whatever. You get the drift.
I think, if you’ve read this blog at all, you probably know where I stand on the topic of God. No need to belabor that point here. But the parable stuck with me.
And we tend to scratch things that itch, don’t we?
So, let’s pull back to the bones of the parable.
If we strip it down to its essentials, we get the fairly basic notion that only a receptive mind can accept certain types of ideas. (I’ll bet, if you’re over the age of say 10, you already understand this fact of human existence.)
Now, let’s play with it a little.
If the rocks represent people who are too set in their ways to grasp new ideas – hardened against new influences, as it might be, and the rich soil represents the people who have the necessary elements in their characters – say, and openness to new influences – where does that leave the dry soil?
The parable presents us with a continuum of human experience: Set in Stone, Receptive, and that one in the middle. But the parable doesn’t describe it as it a coherent whole of experience. It sets each part of the scale as separate and wholly different things.
But if you look closely and honestly at yourself, you’ll see that you contain, within you, all three dispositions of mind. We are all set in some ways, receptive in others, and in between on still others.
This may be getting too broad in scope. So, let’s narrow it a bit.
Assume, as the parable does, that the seed/ idea being spread is a good idea, something that would contribute to human flourishing. (Doesn’t have to be the God idea. Just a good idea in general.) Suppose also that the idea is universally good – that it would benefit any and all who embrace it. And following from that supposition, if an idea were that good, we would want as many people to embrace it as possible.
So then, the question would be: how to enrich the dry soil?
Ok, so the rock, you can’t do anything about. Just let it alone and wait for the wind and the weather to wear it down, back into something useable again. The good earth, we don’t need to worry about. It’s got everything it needs, except the idea, already.
It’s the dry soil we, as metaphorical farmers, should be concerned about.
And here’s where these metaphors intertwine: as farmers, we don’t just cast seed. We tend to the soil. We fertilize, condition, aerate, and irrigate. We give the soil the nutrients – the support for growth – that it lacks. And that’s how you turn a field that withers into a field that flowers.
For the religious minded among you, this is not a terribly new idea. Religions have been fertilizing and conditioning young minds to produce the kind of environment where some truly preposterous ideas can take root and thrive, for millennia.
But I’m not really talking to the religiously minded here.
It’s the rest of us that need to take a page from that playbook, and put it into action where it can do some real good.
For us, the fertilizer is education. The soil conditioning is kindness. The aerating and irrigation are critical thinking and debate.
To have and create minds that are not just receptive, but that can be generative of new and good ideas, we must, as farmers/ tenders/ stewards of the society-culture provide those minds with the nutrients and the structures that encourage growth.
And then we must – as a farmer does with crops – provide a framework and let them grow.
(A framework, in this metaphor is guidance. Guidance is very different from coercion. Insistence on uniformity and conformity is coercion. Guidance is example and encouragement.)
All that being said, even good farmers sometimes lose crops. You can’t bring all of them into harvest, and we won’t. But as religions throughout time have known, we may not get them all, but we’ll get enough. Enough is all we need. Enough might just keep us from destroying ourselves and the carrying capacity of our planet.
Enough might bring us peace and prosperity.
Enough might let us remember who we really are to one another.
(It’s a dream, maybe, but that’s my brain in the morning for you. Those days are the best that begin with dreams.)
There’s more to be said on this subject. Probably many more thousands of words. But this is enough to get us started.
Oh, before I’m done with this metaphor:
As long as you’re this deep in the weeds, why not pull a few. Might give room for something better to spring up in their place.