Carp in a Barrel

These days in Portland I have met SO MANY amazing people. People filled with wisdom and history and activism. Mark Middleton is one of these (along with his cutie pie partner, Nick. Happy Birthday Nick!). A volunteer at SMYRC, a house leader of the Anawim community, a web genius, skydiver and so much more, Mark’s approach to life and ministry defies convention.

Over coffee and some unbelievable vegan desert delicacies at Pix, Mark shared a story that tickled and moved me. It’s a true story about how they used to transport fish in barrels cross-country in the old days of the US. In the story is a GREAT object lesson about how we can keep each other from growing stale in our minds and world view. I asked Mark if he would blog about it and he did:

The journey these fish were on lasted for several weeks at a time and caused a dilemma of sorts. The fish would get comfortable, lazy, stagnant and would either die or become so sedentary that their flavor would go down the tubes. By the time these barrels of fish arrived in the San Francisco port, the fish were of so poor quality that they were barely useful for fertilizer.

A enterprising woman by the name of Ethel Brandorff had an idea. In the barrel full of other, comfortable fish, she would place a single carp. The carp were irritating to the other fish, and nipped, taunted and kept the other fish ill at ease…. not killing them, but giving them a reason to swim, hustle and keep their wits about them. The carp kept the others on their toes, as it were. With the new arrangement, the whole barrel of fish was in better shape than when they left their eastern seaboard roots.

It is so easy to surround ourselves with people who totally agree with us, to visit the blogs that speak our truth and avoid people and blogs that challenge our thinking.

And how many times have we been those carp? We may not even want to be the person stirring up trouble, but by the very nature of who we are–our queerness, our transness, our differentness, our “us-ness”, we have kept our families, our churches, our schools, our society from growing stale and lifeless.

Our otherness can be a true gift to the worlds we inhabit.

This post has 9 Comments

  1. nonsequitur on January 30, 2007 at 5:26 am Reply

    This belligerent carp thanks you for this post :-p

  2. Anna HP on January 30, 2007 at 8:10 am Reply

    This may be the strangest compliment I´ve ever given, but you are indeed a carp, and I mean it in a good way. You don’t leave anyone you meet unaffected or unnoticed.

  3. JJ on January 30, 2007 at 3:21 pm Reply

    Wow, I was just talking about this with a dear friend who happens to be a pagan carp to this evangelical fish (or I suppose I am the evangelical carp to him as a pagan fish), thanking him for how he challenges me and makes me think about my beliefs… Very cool.

  4. Scotmagicman on January 30, 2007 at 5:21 pm Reply

    Love the imagery. And what fantastically beautiful fish carp can be compared to your run-of-the-mill cod and tuna and…. No wonder the Japanese value them and hold them in such high esteem. Maybe I shall be a carp in my next life. Koi of course.

  5. Mark on January 30, 2007 at 11:06 pm Reply

    thanks for the shout-out – it’s been our pleasure hosting you in the Rose City of Portland this last week and a half. Grace and Peace in your travels – I look forward to our paths crossing again.

  6. Susanne on January 31, 2007 at 3:26 am Reply

    In Asian mythology, any carp that can swim upstream and jump the waterfalls will be transformed into a dragon. This Asian dragon is considered a good omen and a protector.
    So, here’s to the carps in our lives; who never tire from swimming upstream…who transform the world one waterfall at a time.

  7. Anonymous on January 31, 2007 at 8:23 am Reply

    Love it Peterson. Thankyou very much for this encouraging blog post. I’m going to make a new day resolution to not worry about being a little out of place in some situations and to put myself into more situations which make me feel slightly awkward. Esther

  8. Christine on February 2, 2007 at 5:13 am Reply

    Wow. I read that as “Crap in a Barrel” and was trying to connect that with your post for a while…

  9. alex resare on February 2, 2007 at 10:04 pm Reply

    I can see that most people love this story. I some way I agree. But when applied on people the carp get so very lonely. I don’t want anyone to be so lonely. If most of your readers sees (seeing, I have no idea how to conjugate see) the carp as someone that keep the other fishes alive and healther. I just see a lonley fish, forced into a unnatural way of life. Even if the other gets a better life, the carp will still miss other carps.

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