“Lady, you must be brave. Fishing all the way out there with him,” Miguel’s mother called to me as I walked out of the water in Rainbow Bay, spear in hand. I actually had not thought about it that much, but I suspected that the sting ray that had just glided past my feet would probably agree with her.
Oddly enough, swimming out into deep water with Manex, I had not felt a bit of fear. Perhaps it was because the man who had asked me to be his spear fishing partner was a person whose skill and friendship I trusted. Or perhaps it was because, let’s be honest, I had a spear in my hand – it has a way of changing the game a bit.
I had never worn flippers before; I had never used a snorkel before; and I had never shot a spear before… but really those were just details. I learned as we went. First pausing to ask Manex how to get the water out of my snorkel after diving – “blow as hard as you can.” Then pausing to ask what to do when I dove deep and my ears felt like they were screaming – “hold your nose and blow hard.”
It was a lot to balance. Swimming hard enough to keep up with the fish, but not so hard that you pulled a muscle in your leg. Breathing through the snorkel, but remembering to stop breathing when you dove deep under the water. Diving fast enough to get your fish before your lungs gave out, but not so fast that you scared your fish away. Balancing your body under the water perfectly still, while somehow still loading, aiming and firing your spear. Needless to say, despite the fact that Manex said I was a natural, we were really still counting on him to make sure we had something to eat that night.
In addition to my inexperience, I have a slight suspicion my killer instinct was diminished by the fact that it seemed I was in God’s fish tank. Creatures that mimicked the colors and shapes of pet store prizes, only several times their size, swam past me alone and in schools. Vibrant green parrot fish and dark gray angel fish the size of my head. Huge spotted eagle rays that seemed to outweigh me gliding solo. Lion fish as large as a football, for whom I had long ago learned to have abundant respect. And one sweet little bluish bubble that left me with a painful kiss goodbye on my back after engaging me in a twirling dance that Manex called my “encounter” with the “baby man o’ war.”
It was probably the most adventurous outing of my life, but for Manex it was simply the necessary precursor to making dinner… catching it that is. Today, for a couple hours, Manex was not a construction manager and I was not a gardner, we were spear fisherman and spear fisherwoman, and we had “dominion over the fish of the sea.”
After returning to camp to clean, scale, fillet, cook and eat our feast of fresh fish, I thanked Manex for a terrific afternoon and headed off in search of some wifi to catch up on what was taking place back home in the Philadelphia area. What I found in my newsfeed was a scene that did not look all that different from the bucket of wounded fish that I had recently looked down into with sadness-twinged wonder. The news had come in that the Rev. Frank Schaefer had received his sentence for transgressing church law – 30 days to change course or surrender his credentials.
As I scanned through my wounded-fish-bucket of a newsfeed, the irony was not lost on me. The calling to be fishers of men does not look so charming when our school of fish is bleeding and struggling on the end of a spear. And the more vibrant, lively and beautiful they are, the more tragic it seems. When Jesus called the disciples to be “fishers of men”, he certainly did not mean for us to carry that metaphor all the way through to the gory end… did he? I thought about the story Manex had been telling me at dinner – of the damage done to the barrier reef in China from dynamite fishing – and that is what it feels like right here. One small stick of dynamite in Pennsylvania causing shockwaves all around the world as GLBTQ friends and the allies who support them wonder what this will mean for them.
I’m struggling to know what to do with the fish metaphor that has so driven the church after being elbow deep in wounded fish, and then eyeball deep in wounded friends.
If I had to pick a metaphor for today, I’d rather see the church as a school of fish than as a fisherman with a hungry belly and dangerous intent. Such a metaphor just does not work for me today. Rather than a hunter stalking a school of fish, I’d prefer to see the church itself as the school of fish – communicating effortlessly, adapting swiftly, shifting in unison – individuals moving together in unity for the safety and protection of all its members.
But we are not always given either the circumstances or the metaphors that we would choose. And so I am left with neither the metaphor of a school of fish in my scriptures, nor the reality of its unity in my church.
Lord, if you would make us to be fishers of men, let it not be the sort that use dynamite nor the sort that use spears. In fact, Lord, I just can’t reside in that metaphor right now. Not after today. What I need, what we all need, is the good shepherd who leaves the ninety nine to go after the one. And seeing as I have no plans to go to a sheep farm any time soon and find out the conclusion of that metaphor, the image of the God who does not want to lose a single lamb still bears comfort.
So bless these your lambs, Lord, and bless these your fish too. The gray and drab, the green and flashy, the striped ones and the spotted ones – won’t you be a shepherd to your fish? Won’t you tend our wounds? Won’t you bring us back?