On being moved by metaphors, from my couch to the communion table and back again.
It was the perfect storm.
That’s a metaphor to begin the delayed germination of a blog post about metaphors.
I rarely blog these days, but I’ve been mulling a post about Parasite with a focus on the use of metaphor with the suseok – the scholar’s stone – but I kept making the pessimistic and shrewd decision to not expend the time and effort on an essay about a film that 95% of my readers haven’t seen. But then, on Sunday, the First of March, this blog post idea received an injection of fresh, relevant, relatable content. The perfect storm of two soccer matches and a communion Sunday service.
“It’s so metaphorical,” says Ki-Woo, the son in Parasite, twice. Of the Kim family members, he is the one most interested in and affected by the suseok, a gift to the family from his friend Min, a gift which accompanies Min’s offer for Ki-Woo to take over his tutoring position at the Park household, which sets the story in motion.
It is so metaphorical. Upon second viewing, the metaphorical story elements of the film – the stone in particular – became so much more obvious for me, but no less effective. Writer/director Bong Joon-ho deserved every Oscar he received, and the second viewing reinforced his case for the screenplay nod in particular. Parasite is loaded with metaphors, beginning with its very title. It goes out of its way to use them, to call attention to them, to sneak them into scenes, to hide them in plain sight, and to even beat them over the head of the audience and…well, no spoilers. And yet, audiences have agreed that the class commentary (with which many of the metaphors are involved) does not come across as ham-fisted even though it is so overt. This is one of the great tricks of the film: by making the metaphors obvious, it makes them natural, drawing attention to the fact that the absurd and grotesque are realities, ubiquitous realities woven into capitalist society. A sore thumb doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in an old-timey mining company.
“It’s so metaphorical,” says Ki-Woo, his voice musing and reverential as he holds the stone. “It’s so metaphorical!” he says, later, as the family moves through a buffet line while discussing their changing fortunes. Ki-Woo has come to a realization, or realizations, and he is excited by their potential, but also by their very existence. He has seen the metaphors at work in their powerful and pervasive ways, and he is captivated. For the audience, seeing the metaphors ping around and drive the plot forward is one of the great thrills of the film. They coalesce into a brilliant cinematic experience that is also an acerbic critique of capitalist society, allowing the audience to enjoy the art and the commentary as they see the metaphors that were there all along, like a Magic Eye illusion.
But we can gain similar thrills from seeing metaphors all around us in our lives outside the movie theater. Recognizing them – the subtle and conspicuous alike – can set our feet steady and suggest the lofty and transcendent.
And so the perfect storm began for me on Sunday morning to the sound of “Theme from Z Cars.” Everton Football Club, my favorite sports team, were hosting Manchester United, walking out to their usual song, greeted by the roar of some of the best supporters in English football. It’s a moment that always makes me emotional, even making my eyes well up and my throat catch. I have no real connection to Everton. It’s not a family tradition. I’ve never been to Liverpool, and “The People’s Club” has no idea I’m one of their people. And yet I jumped up and screamed like a proper hooligan when I thought Dominic Calvert-Lewin (who I’ve cursed out plenty of times over the years (like a proper hooligan)) had won it at the death, and I sank into the couch in dismay when I realized video review was going to (wrongfully) overturn it. In general, I’m not that kind of sports fan anymore, but Everton is a wonderful, painful, exception. I care so much about a club and community that has nothing to do with me.
Because, as I used to say when this was the SneakyGoodSportsBlog: “Sports are more than a game and life is more than sports.” Everton is something else, something more, than a collection of athletes running around trying to score goals. If that’s all it was I’d find a collection of athletes who do it better. But while it is certainly also about the spirit of the club – its close ties to the community, the grounds of Goodison Park and the Gwladys Street End, its embrace of grit, tenacity, and collective endeavour – those things wouldn’t prescribe Everton as my club either, because there are other clubs with great traits and traditions. There are very real reasons why I love Everton FC, but locating that love on the blue half of Merseyside is also arbitrary, random, and completely unnecessary. But it means something – a great deal – to me.
Everton is what Everton means. It represents something profound, some vast well of meaning that I access in a particular way when I watch them march onto the pitch and play a game. It is more than the thing itself, and therefore it is more to me than “just” a sports team. And, judging by the delirious roars of my fellow Evertonians, I’m not the only one.
After the match, I went to church.
This isn’t a post about my own struggles with going to church, but it is important that you know that I don’t really like going. It’s not the meaningful experience for me that it is for so many other people. There have been long stretches of time since I finished college when I just didn’t go, but since August I’ve been doing the bare minimum of getting to Sunday service each week.
This Sunday was a communion Sunday, which is a too-rare occurrence at this church. But besides the presence of the tables at the front with baskets of matzo and glasses of juice, this worship service played out much the same for me as most others. I stand and sat – mostly checked out and thinking about what else I was going to do that day – through songs of worship I only sort of knew and a sermon that I was prideful enough to think I already knew all about.
And then the metaphor hit. Apologies to those who believe in literal transubstantiation, but communion is the metaphor of all metaphors. “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” said Jesus. “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” I hurried to be one of the first ones forward to receive the Host because germs, but as I sat back down with my cracker dipped in juice I made a point to slow down a moment and think about what I was holding and what I was doing, and as I chewed it with muted crunches and tried to keep it from sticking to my teeth because that’s the veteran move I closed my eyes and thought about Jesus saying those words to each and every person one at a time, me included. By this body and blood given to me, I am redeemed, I thought, as the pastor had told me with a smile as I dipped the matzo moments earlier, and as he told everyone who followed after. Jesus gave this to me as he gave it to all.
For the second time that morning, my eyes welled up in the face of a powerful metaphor. In that moment, contemplating the metaphorical body and blood present in the “bread” and “wine” I had just ingested, all the shit I hate about organized religion, about cultural Christianity, about believing in something that sometimes seems stupid, faded away in comparison to this sacrament that is at the heart of my faith.
I’m not about that Hillsong life, but though I had never heard “Who You Say I Am,” before that morning, I had joined in with gusto by the end, spurred on by the power of the metaphor.
The metaphors weren’t done. That night, my favorite soccer team in America, the Portland Timbers, were playing their first game of the MLS season, hosting Minnesota United at Providence Park in Soccer City, USA (that’s Portland, if you didn’t know).
Watching the Timbers – especially when they’re playing at home – is about much more for me than the game played on the pitch. I studied at Oregon State University for two years, and becoming a Timbers fan was the first thing I did in becoming an Oregonian. And now, nearly two years after moving back to the Midwest, being a Timbers fan is one of my last connections to that part of my identity. Watching them is bittersweet, as seeing the scenes at Providence Park remind me of so many of the things I love about Oregon and the things that I missed out on then and miss out on now. As I’ve written, living in Oregon is one of my great achievements and great failures, and watching the Timbers play is inextricable from that, even if I (inexplicably) never took in a game shoulder-to-shoulder with the Timbers Army. Being Rose City Til I Die is hard in this town of mine, such as last September when I went to a neighborhood bar in order to be able to see a crucial match and had a miserable experience that conjured up all my resentments about living here and not there. It was so metaphorical.
My love of the Timbers is mixed up in all manner of metaphor, which is what makes it special. They lost in disappointing fashion on Sunday, but the experience was more than that for me, as it was for those who were there. Richard Farley writes: “The [pre-kickoff festivity] was a reminder of what all share by being part of the culture. Results are always a constant – the metronomic tick that paces each season – but around those wins and losses, the things that differentiate start to grow. As they’re found, picked out and fostered, they become defining parts of the community – the things new fans will be drawn to. Over seasons, decades and generations, memories become foundations, and foundations become culture.” As much as any organization in MLS, the Timbers symbolize much more than the average sports team, transcending the game to be about the community, even beyond that community’s love of sport. The way they represent Oregon makes their metaphorical power that much greater for me, as I watch them and am reminded of what I loved, lost, and never had at all. Somber as that can be, I wouldn’t trade it.
The power of metaphors in sports and religion were at work throughout my Sunday, overt and obvious yet natural and commonplace, like my decision to wear a green flannel and Timbers scarf. My experiences watching Everton and Portland and taking communion at church all gave me a sense of community I wouldn’t have otherwise. I haven’t made many connections at church, and I don’t know anyone sitting in the stands at Goodison or Providence Park, but the community and shared experience were real.
I don’t believe the metaphorical nature of my experiences on Sunday makes them a lesser part of reality. Sure, I could have just turned the TV off and my life would have gone on without the chanting and singing of my fellow fans thousands of miles away. Yes – many Sundays come and go without the elements, and the time spent on communion is tiny, and it’s a ritual barely distinguishable from lighting candles or a responsive reading. But I think this perspective has a flawed threshold for what counts as a real experience. For, as Bong Joon-ho depicts so masterfully in Parasite, our lives are fundamentally metaphorical. At any moment, we are living in them, interacting with them, motivated by them, and, often to our detriment, ignoring them.
Metaphors are fundamental to our perception and understanding of ourselves and the world around us, and embracing them offers profound insights. Sometimes they reveal something about the cruel constructs of capitalism or the redeeming power of faith. Other times they remind us of a love for a place and a community. And, other times, they reassure us that we’re not the only hooligan sinking back into the couch after a shambolic replay review decision, muttering under our breath, once again, “Everton, that.”
Forth now, and fear no darkness.
Soli Deo Gloria