The Parable of the Action Figure

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Both Jesus and the Buddha used parables as a way to teach lessons.  I like parables.  There’s a Zen aspect to them that requires one to look at things from another perspective and think outside the box. I had an epiphany one day while playing with an action figure and have since turned it into a parable I would like to share with you.  Sadly I’ve never been the brightest bulb in the box so I often times need to listen to the Director’s Commentary on life to figure out what the parables mean so I will tell you the parable and them walk you through it.

There are two kinds of people who buy action figures: the ones who open the package and those who don’t.  Often times our religious practice is the same way.

Let’s say you want to learn about spirituality so you decide to read some books on the subject.  You read the Tao Teh Ching, the Koran, the Bible, the Dhammapada, the Book of Mormon, the Torah, the Gnostic Gospels, the Bhagavad Gita and Amazing Fantasy #15 among others.  Pretty soon your brain goes numb because you realize all these books are giving the exact same message (and the irony is you don’t even need me to tell you what the message is because you already inherently know it).

Guess what?  There’s a lot of filler and fluff in religious texts.  The problem comes from our interpretation and our hang ups about the fluff.  You can put anything into a mental Jeremiah begot Jedidiah decoder ring and find a justification for your perspective.  We hype the stories and dump so much fluff on them we end up making them unbelievable and the message gets lost.  Jesus bringing someone back from the dead, the Buddha being born and then taking seven steps where lotus flowers blossomed, and a kazillion others like this are nothing more than fluff.  None of which have anything to do with spirituality and living a good life.  All the differences in the ways we practice, the robes, the underwear, the ways we pray or the flavor of our Jesus cookie, is just more fluff.

It’s easy to get lost in the fluff.  Don’t do it.

When you buy an action figure there are basically two parts; the packaging and the figure itself.  Many people put a lot of focus on the packaging  They use these super cool terms like MOC (mint on card) or NIB (new in box) to describe the level of pristine their figure is in.  Collectors will tell you DO NOT OPEN THE ACTION FIGURE and that the second you do it loses all its value.  So there are all these people who have dozens of figures sitting on the shelf or in boxes with a thick layer of dust on them and never once play with the figure inside because they’ve been taught they will lose something if they touch and play (How many people own a copy of the Bible yet have never read it?).  The packaging is the fluff.  Don’t get lost in it.  Don’t focus on all the bright shiny things that make this figure different from that figure rather than discovering all the cool ways the figures can play with each other.  Think about it, the action figure world is the only place we will ever see Batman fighting beside The Six Million Dollar Man against a giant Hello Kitty who is attaching the Death Star.

The message that we talked about earlier?  The one I told you you already know?  That’s the action figure.

It’s called a ‘spiritual journey’.  If you’re at some point on your journey where your religion is telling you to hate or making you prejudiced or afraid of the people around you, then you are caught in the fluff.  I promise you did not buy this cool figure to let it sit on the shelf, collecting dust and having its color fade.  Bust that sucker out throw the package away and play with it.

If you don’t believe me just remember what happened to Stinky Pete, the Prospector in Toy Story 2.  He was left inside the box and became pure evil.

Have fun.


  1. Dan Patterson

    This is a powerful & thought-provoking article, Darren. Nice job.

    I fear that a couple of details about my religion may have been misinterpreted, though. The Sacrament which we partake of represents a covenant being made between the believer & The Savior. In doing so, believers become One with The Savior. This by no means is to suggest, then, any kind of superiority; but rather, a greater blessing. The glory is to The Savior for what He has done.

    And, yes, He would have us love & serve our brothers & sisters — or, in terms of the analogy — take the toy out of the box and ensure that the toy enjoys the opportunity to become all that it was intended to become.

    I have seen a great many misunderstandings about my faith — and many years ago, I even perpetuated them in my ignorance. But, in more recent years, I have learned that it really is about putting others first.

    1. Darren Lamb

      Thanks for the feedback Dan. You are always a source of knowledge and inspiration. Your faith and spiritual journey is humbling to watch.

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