Sunday, September 25, 2022
By: David May, Rector
There is a phrase I remember hearing a lot when I was growing up. I heard it from parents in the neighborhood. And I heard it a lot from my mother. Maybe you’ve heard it too. Maybe you’ve even used it yourself. It goes like this: “If you don’t stop [fill in the blank], you’ll put your eye out!” That fill in the blank could be almost anything, sword fighting with sticks, bombing each other with acorns, flinging Matchbox cars over homemade ramps. My mother was a thoroughly reasonable person and was rarely stampeded by emotion, but the number of things that she thought might result in dire consequences to one’s eye was immeasurable.
I think I understand her perspective a little better now after having raised kids of my own. And I’ve also learned that my mother’s use of exaggeration is actually grounded in a very old method of teaching. Hyperbole or exaggeration to make a point, is a perfectly acceptable method of instruction with a long and proud history. The rabbis of Jesus’ own day used it. In this style of teaching – often using stories or examples – one draws clear distinctions between good and evil, righteousness and injustice, darkness and light. These rabbis, and subsequent teachers through the ages, were smart, sophisticated thinkers. They knew as well as anyone that there is infinite complexity and nuances of gray that we deal with in this world. But we can get swamped by all that gray sometimes. Exaggerated storytelling can clarify what’s at stake and get us back on track.
So with my mother, her “put that stick down or it’ll put out your eye” was in a proud tradition. Even though I still might want to counter with an appeal to my general past record of trustworthiness in not having put my eye out to date or my growing desire for more freedom. She knew that I needed to be disarmed first. Complexities could be dealt with later.