One of the greatest English rock bands, Pink Floyd, has a line in one of their songs that has always intrigued me: “we’re like two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl, year after year. Wish you were here.”
These lyrics suggest, rather cynically, that living today can feel like living in a fishbowl. The more I thought about life being like a fishbowl, the more it seemed to me that there is some truth to the idea.
Water magnifies every action we take, making it look way bigger than it probably should be. Life in a fishbowl means that small things appear much bigger. A rather innocuous comment can be seen as a massive put down; a flippant remark can be taken as a serious rejection of a person; a mild, gentle criticism can be misunderstood as a character assassination.
In the world of the fishbowl, many things are exaggerated or magnified causing a distorted view of reality. Fishbowl thinking over scrutinises, dissects and then replays over and over again the same unbalanced view of reality.
Every now and then, I think I suffer from this condition and I am not alone. Others in the church are also unconsciously affected by a fishbowl mind-set. Sometimes when I am in conversation, I hear a grievance. They range from the trivial, to the important, to the very serious. Discerning which category they belong in is a prayerful, pastoral art. To reinforce the petty is not helping anyone. To minimise the serious is pastorally neglectful.
I have to ask myself, is this expressed concern merely fishbowl thinking or is there something more important being said. When we are too close to each other, when we hang out in small communities, when we are surrounded by people who simply agree with us, the fishbowl mentality can flourish. We need a bigger pond, a larger circle of friends, and a broader perspective, so we don’t get stuck in the fishbowl.
That’s why I have often sought to develop relationships with people who have a different viewpoint or a different theology to me, in order that I might not be trapped in my prejudices or remain shallow in my thinking. I love the way the apostle Paul speaks of the church being like a body (1 Cor 12), “the eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you… these parts are indispensable.” This is living beyond the fishbowl; valuing, learning and growing beyond ourselves and beyond our little circle of friends is the challenge and privilege of being part of the body of Christ. Facing conflict and dealing with diversity is part of the creative tension of being a member of the Christ community.
Jesus did not come to form a clique or a club. He came and began a movement that, while remaining focused on him, orientated itself toward neighbour, stranger and even to the enemy. It was fishbowl thinking in reverse.
Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he called his disciples to be “fishers of people” (Matthew 4 v19): life beyond the fishbowl.
Rev Steve Francis, moderator, Uniting Church WA