The Parable of the Fisheries Manager

There was once a young fisheries manager in charge of a pristine trout stream high in the Sierra Nevada. Well, almost pristine. You see, the stream, though pretty in appearance, contained nothing but stunted, invasive brook trout. And so, the fishery manager decided to improve things. He obtained a batch of native California golden trout and dumped them in the stream. Later in the year, when he surveyed the fish population, not a single golden trout remained. The stunted brook trout had out-competed and starved them all to death. He tried again, this time with more fish, planted in multiple locations. Again, the stunted brook trout ate them out of house and home. He tried a third time. This time, he embarked on a comprehensive program of habitat improvement beforehand and selected the finest golden trout he could find. But once again, the brook trout out-competed them and the golden trout didn’t survive.

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At his wit’s end, he called the senior fisheries manager from two drainages over. “You silly goose,” said the senior fisheries manager. “You forgot to kill the stunted brook trout first. It’s rule number one of good preaching.”

“Good preaching, sir?” the young fisheries manager replied.

“Did I say preaching? Excuse me, I meant good native trout restoration. Now go get some rotenone and remove the idolatrous misconceptions of those stunted brook trout.”

The young fisheries manager decided not to question the idolatry of brook trout and went out to do as he was told. Let the one who has ears to hear, listen! The End.

God is a Trout Fisherman

(Author’s note: I could say that the lack of posting is because I have been absolutely swamped with work, or that I have been working long days and nights perfecting this post. However, neither of those two would be true. Rather, I’ve been bad about making time to write, and so my apologies for that. And special apologies to those of you who have been waiting for the next two entries in the Socrates and Lutheran theology series. Hopefully those will be coming soon.)

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Recently, I spent a couple of days on the North Shore of Lake Superior, north of Two Harbors, Minnesota. During my trip, I received hundreds of bug bites, a rodent chewed into my food, my sleeping pad sprang a leak, and the nights were so cold that I couldn’t sleep. In the midst of my misery, after hours of trying to force my way alongside rivers overgrown with weeds and infested with mosquitoes, I caught a trout. In fact, it was the trout featured in the picture at the top of this post. My trout wasn’t puny at all, but it definitely didn’t qualify for lunker status. After admiring it for a short period of time, I slipped it back into the water, and proceeded to catch zero more. And yet, despite my lack of success and despite the trials I endured, that one trout made the whole trip worth it.

You see, I’m crazy about trout. And as anyone who’s crazy about trout knows, there’s nothing like the feeling of catching a trout. The feeling of holding a trout in my hands makes up for any bug bites, lack of sleep, or rodent espionage that I may have to endure to experience it. But, and I’ll be the first to admit it, it’s not a universal human experience. There’s no rational reason that catching trout brings me such great pleasure. And there’s absolutely no obligation on my part to go out and catch trout. In fact, the vast majority of people don’t go out and catch trout because in their arithmetic, one 11 inch trout does not make up for two days of misery.

So, what exactly does trout fishing have to do with God? Trout fishing, dear reader, is an opportunity to re-frame the way that we think about God, because we’ve been taught so often to think of everything God does as necessary and rational. The whole reason that theodicy is so popular is because it allows people to put God under the microscope of “what makes sense.” But what if it doesn’t make sense? To take creation as an example, what if God didn’t create the world because it was “necessary” or “inherent to God’s nature?” What if God created the world simply because it brought Him extraordinary pleasure to do so?

Or, let’s push the metaphor a little bit further: What if God is a trout fisherman and you’re the trout? You’re hiding deep down in the waters of death, scared that everything around you is going to devour you. God could be a stamp collector, and, then, you’d be out of luck. Instead, because God’s a trout fisherman, He endures a cross and death just to chase after you, you sinful trout. And he does it for no reason, other than that He really likes trout. And the immense pleasure of holding one sinful, redeemed person in His arms makes up for it all, because Jesus means it when he says that He rejoices more in one redeemed sinner than a hundred righteous people.

It’s a clunky metaphor at points, I get that. But, it’s also an opportunity to play around and to try and escape the trap of thinking of God as some sort of divine bean counter, who meticulously calculates the necessity of His actions, moves accordingly, and then, once He’s done, expects you to do the same. Maybe God chases sinners, simply because, against all reason, He likes them.

 

 

Trout and Cast Iron?

The delightfully witty episcopal priest, Robert Farrar Capon, once praised the wedding service in The Book of Common Prayer for being full of “death and cast iron.” I love the poetry of that description, and I hope, when people look back on my life and work, they can say (with slight modification), “Now, Kristofer Coffman, there’s a man whose life was full of trout and cast iron.” For me, to be full of trout and cast iron means to be full of the edges in this world where the beauty of God’s creation meets the stark fight for survival. It means to be full of things that take grease and care and last a lifetime. It’s not a way to save yourself or to improve your credit score, but it is a life of learning new things and taking old things seriously.

This blog is  about church history,  Bible translation, preaching, and all the other assorted things that make up my life as an almost pastor and a would be academic. To be honest, there will be nothing really new here; but, there will be a lot of old things that I think have been overlooked for too long, to the detriment of American Lutheranism. And because words are my chosen medium, this blog is also an exercise in learning to write. In A Movable Feast, Ernest Hemingway said that when he sat down to write, he started by trying “to write one true sentence.” This blog is my own personal effort to write one true sentence. Thanks for coming along. In the words of the inimitable, Rob Gronkowski, “Stay hyped.”

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