Profanity

After school one day, when I was in the ninth grade, I was playing on the outdoor basketball court near my house.  Jim, on the other team, was 2-3 years older.  Maybe he had blocked my shot, or maybe I had just played badly, but I was getting upset.  Now, Jim had picked up that I didn’t cuss . . . but when he saw that I was mad, he actually dared me to cuss.

And I did.  Right then and there.  I cussed.  A lot.

And then I was launched into a very bad year and a half of my life.

Sometimes, we need to let our speech be seasoned with grace and salt.  Other times, we need to speak our minds.  There ways to do this that aren’t offensive and vulgar.  Sometimes, softening and sweetening things is good   Other times, we might just need to be blunt and call it like it is.

A few weeks ago, I had a couple of bad words on the brain for a few days.  A dear friend offered those words with reference to two particular individuals.   I’m afraid he was right on target . . . and part of me wants to say those words out loud.   Several times.  With vehemence.  Another friend used a patently horrific word to describe certain effects of actions and words in life.  All these words stuck with me.  They are bad words, undesirable words, common/vulgar words . . . in some sense, profane words.

So what about profanity?  Strictly speaking, “profane” refers merely to the non-sacred.  Debussy’s Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane is not about sacristies on the one hand and profane language on the other; it’s simply contrasting the purportedly sacred with the secular.  However, in common use, the words “profane” and “profanity” refer to objectionable speech, not merely secular speech.  There are times that I still wonder whether speaking a few colorful, crass terms out loud might do me some good.  Please don’t dare me, because sometimes I feel pretty weak, and I would have a conscience problem if I allowed myself certain outbursts.  That’s not to say that all my speech is good and “seasoned with salt.”  Certainly not.  As a baseline, though, I have committed not to speak of Deity in a way that my own ears and conscience find careless or irreverent.

Perhaps I think about this profanity thing too much.  Sometimes I opt out of watching things on the screen that gratuitously and/or repetitively use poor language.  Even at this ripe age, I am still not sure how to handle it when others—particularly those I know fairly well and who ought to know better—refer to God flippantly.  What would you think of a preacher/pastor exclaiming  “OM_” (not in prayer)?  Among others who’ve carelessly spoken of God in my hearing are a a church organist I once met and a music colleague in a Christian institution.  I hope you will join me in checking yourself on at least the God-related type of profane speech.  It’s not that the use of poorly chosen or base expressions is the only important thing, or that speaking poorly will necessarily propel us into other undesirable behaviors, but careless speech about God should be excised for the sake of our reputations and potential witness, if not our consciences.

Sobriety check

Another universal “should”

The (lack of) need to specify

If you’re in Vermont or northern Utah or Alberta in the winter and you hear a reference to “skiing,” you naturally assume it’s snow skiing, not water skiing.  If you’re in Georgia or Florida, or on a central Oklahoma lake, you assume it’s water skiing.  It only seems necessary for the communicator to specify the type of skiing if she wants you to understand what you wouldn’t naturally assume.

If one sees the name Susan, one assumes the person is a female, not a male.  It’s only necessary to specify if you want the person to understand what s/he wouldn’t naturally assume.  If your name is Joe, and you are a male, there’s really no need to tag “he/him/his” onto your signature.  The natural assumption—that he is a “he”—should stand, at least until Joe expresses a contrary “preference.”

To pummel a flatlined pony:  I find it superfluous to suggest, by fiat or by example, that we need to start explicitly preferring what is naturally assumed.  Whenever I’m confronted by a Joe who wants to be identified as “she” or “they,” I’ll probably just use the name instead of any pronouns.  In the meantime, please allow me to make the natural assumptions without unnecessary verbiage:  that skiing in Vail in February is snow skiing, and that Joe is a guy.

This has been one man’s (singular, male) opinion about one small aspect of one societal shift.  There are more (opinions and aspects and shifts).  And now I shall sign off (it’s actually more on than off, and this is an idiom, anyway) from this perch (figurative reference to a quasi-ideology; not a spot [location, not a dark or otherwise color-distinguishable (no reference to race intended) mark on a page] for a bird [member of an aviary species]; not a fish [actual fish, not ), and I (not we), remain (a reference to once again being the primary thing, but a reference to the Old English and French antecedent), yours (well, not actually possessed by any of you readers) truly, 

B. Casey

See?  This whole over-specifying thing is as annoying as reading the Amplified Bible.

Wigglesworth #1

If that subject line doesn’t catch a few people’s attention, I’m not sure what will. This is a quote without comment.

If we have a relationship with any instrument at all, it would perhaps be a fairer analogy to say that it is with our own physicality This is how we express ourselves. This is how we shape the invisible, and as such, it is through our own body that we need to learn to speak. Although verbal communication is tolerated in rehearsals, it is never especially welcomed in performance. At the most important part of the musical process, a conductor’s expression has to be visual, not verbal.

Mark Wigglesworth, The Silent Musician: Why Conducting Matters. London: Faber & Faber, 2018, p. 15

Theological machinations

A warning is required before I share the passage below.  Despite the writer’s presumably sound efforts at critical analysis, which I appreciate on one level, I do not find inherent value in the manifest theological pursuit, and I consider the whole thing unhelpful at best:

“Having read the revised chapter on the Trinity, it is apparent that Grudem has attempted to make a couple of noteworthy adjustments/clarifications:  he now affirms the eternal generation of the Son (though on fairly narrow lexical grounds and without any significant reference to or defense of the eternal procession of the Spirit) and admits (in some sense) that there is one divine will (although it’s difficult to see how these admissions cohere with his broader understanding of the Trinity; more on this later in the essay).  But rather than retract any of his former writings on EFS, he actually doubles down.  He still believes the Son is functionally subordinate to the Father, not just in terms of his incarnate mission, but in the eternal life of God himself, even speculating (with only a little caution) that this relationship of subordination in function is precisely what distinguishes the persons as persons.”  – T. Bohlinger, Logos Academic Blog

Do you see how the original series of 4th-century doctrinal superimpositions has received two additional layers of dizzying superimposition?  In other words, there are critiques of the explanations of the concoctions.  Specifically, I didn’t know EFS was a thing and had to look it up; it refers to Eternal Functional Submission, which is compared and contrasted with ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) and ERAS (Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission).  (Not-so) good grief.  Bohlinger presumably analyzes cogently for his scholarly and market-driven purposes; my lesser brain gets lost in the stuff.  I’ll re-appropriate the equally notable words of Westley, from the movie The Princess Bride: “Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.”  In other words, you’re talking in circles, it’s clarifying nothing, and it’s helping no one (not even yourself).  I do not at all intend to connect Bohlinger with the movie’s Vizzini character, the comic, criminal antagonist.  It’s the effect of the rhetoric on me that’s the problem—and that’s why I continue to hang on, and refer to, this anecdote:

“French Renaissance essayist Francois Rabelais said (paraphrasing) that he was wandering around lost in a dark forest with only one little candle to light his way when a theologian came along and blew out his candle.”  – S. Kell

And again,

Vance Havner, a very influential Southern Baptist evangelist of the mid-20th century, once said “Happy is the Christian who has never met a theologian.”  – S. Kell

God, save the people from theologians who are not rooted in the responsible treatment of biblical texts!  As a discipline, Biblical Studies should be recognized as the foundation for faith-related academic inquiry, constituting the stage on which theology, church history, ministry, and religious philosophy all play out.  We ought to establish and maintain devotion to God while keeping our attention on the text.  We ought also to avoid “advanced” theological machinations unless they are inextricably tied to sound interpretation of texts.  It’s awfully hard to concoct a theological doctrine based on one discrete text, and overlaying different texts on top of one another doesn’t often serve well, either.

In the final analysis, it’s better not to construct houses on theological soil.  One might just get vertigo as the house falls down.


For more on Trinitarian formulaism:

==> How would one describe the Indescribable?

==> Sorbet as a symbol

==> Voices: Garrett et al on “trinity”

A few questions for those who haven’t ever been challenged to consider Trinitarian formulaism critically:

  1. Where, precisely, is “trinity” found in scripture?
  2. Who gave trinity its capital-letter sense/status?  When?
  3. What role does the odd word “Godhead” play in legacy doctrine?
  4. In scripture, where is the “Holy Spirit” worshipped (or prayed to) as such?
  5. Why do we feel the need to enumerate the aspects or parts of God rather than worship God?
  6. What is at stake in either upholding or denying the doctrine of the trinity?  How might we accept the possibility of trinity without codifying it?

Ensemble planning

I’m planning for ensemble music-making, unsure of how important things will unfold—or whether they will unfold at all, actually—but moving slowly toward finalizing literature selection.  This process is at once engaging and daunting.

Repertoire, rehearsal structure and experience, and the ultimate program constitute an ensemble’s textbook.  Some who aren’t cognizant of this fact can make it difficult to provide for a high-quality experience—by assuming that music in the current holdings is sufficient.  Any mind unaware of the need to purchase music is a mind that does not comprehend fully the ensemble enterprise.  One does not, can not, must not simply pull music out of the files like the thoughtless church leader who flips through the hymnal ten minutes before the assembly begins.  The literature is the content, and the person or people responsible for its selection ought to be intentional.

It will not do merely to program for seasons or holidays; that practice grossly limits and even insults the nature of the ensemble experience, not to mention short-changing the musicians’ developing intellects and artistry levels.  In other words, if an ensemble works only with Christmas and Memorial Day and pops literature, the result will be impoverished and will not likely challenge minds and develop artistry among the musicians.  Furthermore, the habituated practice that simply falls into a programming pattern based on seasons and occasions tends to show lack of foresight and intent.  This is not to say that there aren’t worthwhile, occasion-based pieces.  There are.  For instance, I’ve conducted some very good Christmas pieces, such as Alfred Reed’s Russian Christmas Music, David Lovrien’s Minor Alterations, Dello Joio’s Variants on a Mediaeval Tune (“In Dulci Jubilo”) and even light-but-well-put-together music such as the oft-heard Anderson arrangements A Christmas Festival and Sleigh Ride.  Several of those were performed on this program:

I’ve heard an anecdote that involved the legendary, groundbreaking conductor Frederick Fennell.  He was approached by the host of some November or December music festival event:

Host of event (apologetically, to Fennell): “I assume you wouldn’t want to spend your time conducting Sleigh Ride!  Ha-ha.”

Fennell (to the surprise of the host): “Well, of course I’d love to conduct Sleigh Ride!”

I take it that Fennell was eager to capitalize on various kinds of musical moments, and he loved ensemble music-making, and Sleigh Ride offered yet more potential for joyous experience.  His eyes lit up, and looked forward to engaging in Sleigh Ride!  I happen to like that piece, too.  It’s loads of fun to conduct and is a good teaching piece for a higher-level ensemble, too.  That kind of music is important, but programming and selection of repertoire overall mustn’t be built solely on that genre.  My current working title for a fall program is based on composers’ last names that begin with the letter “S,” plus the music from “Stage” and “Sleigh Ride.”

Many books and learnings and ponderings

I have many books open or almost open.  They are about these things (no particular order):

Paul’s Christian teaching teaching band in public schools
the nature of scripture and the words that refer to it the enduring nature of suffering
parenting orchestral music
conducting allegiance and a clearly defined “gospel”
listening in the world baseball history
the Kingdom of God English punctuation
grief the myth of the “Christian nation”

No matter what I choose from the above list, I take a few pages at a time.  Sometimes, it’s just a paragraph that gives me pause.  I take it in,  I think about it, and I often consider writing about it.  In my more reflective times, I might spend more time pondering a passage’s significance in my heart and in the world.  I did just that yesterday morning, with some pages from J.B. Phillips’s paraphrase of the four earliest written Hebrew prophets.

I’m presently in a separate course of study of ancient literature, and I’ve become more acquainted with some of the Ancient Near East’s historical setting.  I had almost no knowledge, for instance, of Zoroastrianism and its cross-pollination with the Israelites.  Now in this book, I come upon that again, adding to it a broader sense of things with Celtic movements, the rise of Taoism, Hinduism, “Homer,” and more.  Apparently, the 6th and 7th centuries BCE were pretty significant for the human race overall, according to the above book’s prefatory material.  Add this to the list of things I had no idea about but am glad to learn about.

I do not know whether the consensus vantage point of historians’ scholarship might have been altered on these things in the last 60 years, but I know that reading about them stimulated me, constructing a sort of mental-spiritual catapult into the message of Amos, from roughly the 7th century BCE.

In addition to the above listing, there are also a few other books open, from which I sporadically read aloud to my son.  And it’s just now that I realize that I’ve “buried my lead” in this post, so I’ll retreat and close.  In one analysis, I felt that listing all those book topics would establish a sort of backdrop for the choice I made today to read a little from J.B. Phillips Four Prophets.  From a second angle, it’s important to me to know and to be known . . . to learn and be understood.  I am inarticulate sometimes and can be “scattered.”  That might just be partly because my interests are more than a trifle uncommon, and because it’s hard for me to focus on one thing.  There are always several other things I just can’t leave alone!

Clarity

Historically, punctuation has not been a constant factor in written communication.  Consider this type of text from the ancient world, in which words are run together.  The reader can’t depend on punctuation here, for example (Luke 11:2 in Codex Sinaiticus, via Wikipedia):

Punctuation is not a universal or consistent factor in written language even now, much less 2000 years ago, but punctuation does add clarity.  Effective communications are clear, and clarity is aided by good punctuation.  Reading poorly punctuated prose or seeing a sign that exhibits common mistakes releases my “inner stickler,” and one of the ways I deal with that part of me is to share Lynne Truss quotes.  With deft phrasings, expertise, and humor, Truss gives voice to the inner longings of those of us who care about grammar and punctuation and such.

“Punctuation marks are the traffic signals of language: they tell us to slow down, notice this, take a detour, and stop.”

“Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking.”

If we are thinking clearly about what’s being communicated, the thoughts will be spoken or written clearly.  And if the words are to be apprehended clearly on the receiving end, they had best be well punctuated. The use (and non-use) of commas is certainly key, but so many other punctuation marks can clarify meaning.  Hear Truss again:

“The reason it’s worth standing up for punctuation is not that it’s an arbitrary system of notation known only to an over-sensitive elite who have attacks of the vapours when they see it misapplied.  The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning.”

I find those assertions spot-on.  One might note the hyphen in the previous sentence helps to clarify!  Without the hyphen, hiccups could occur while reading, mistaking “spot” as the end of the expression, and effectively inserting a misleading brain pause:  “He was spot [on with his advice].”

Now, on commas.  Here is an oft-told (for me, at least) (and again with the hyphen!) joke, which is here nicely abbreviated—and slightly edited from Truss, because I unequivocally support the Oxford comma:

A Panda walks into a cafe.  He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots into the air.  “Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes toward the exit.  The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder.  “I’m a Panda,” he says, at the door.  “Look it up.”  The waiter turns to the relevant entry, and, sure enough, finds an explanation.  Panda.  Large black and white bear-like mammal, native to China.  Eats, shoots, and leaves.

You see, the panda not very clear on his nature, so he committed a crime, and it’s all because of punctuation!  (A friend recently reminded me of another comma-related, potential crime:  “Let’s eat, Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma!”)  And did you notice the colon just before the joke began?  It set up what was to come, with a sense of anticipatory pause, yet without too much disruption of continuity.  I actually love the dash (can any sane person “love” a punctuation mark?), and I tend to overuse it.  It is similar to the colon in some uses, but it seems more conversational and fluid.  And a dash is not a hyphen.  They’re two different things.

Why do I share all these?  Because I like writing, and I like writing well, and I don’t write all that well, but I do care about writing well . . . and I think what Lynne Truss says about punctuation deserves hearing.  I think the placement of a comma can really make a difference in communication.  The crux lies in the communication, not simply in the rules or in self-identification as a stickler . . . yet we sticklers do have some pent-up emotion.

Truss laments, “Why did the Apostrophe Protection Society not have a militant wing?  Could I start one?”  It’s funny to think not only of the existence of the APS, but also of a somewhat intense feeling that lies sleeping within some of us, only to surge here and there, almost to the point of inciting violence, as Truss has also suggested, with a permanent marker!

Comparison

Some six years ago (and it seems like three times that, believe me), I noticed an unassuming septuagenarian in a church gathering.  She was holding a parallel KJV-NKJV Bible.  I had never seen one of those before.  Now, I generally like parallel Bibles, but that particular pairing boggled the mind.  No, actually it doesn’t.  We humans do lots of silly things.  The marketeers who conceived and then published this essentially useless parallel KJV-NKJV product must have been mere marketeers, not exegetes or literary interpretation experts or even pastors.

Some of the KJV’s poetic language is nice, and using it for comparison can be helpful.  The KJV was actually great in its time, but that time is long past.  These days, using the KJV and NKJV for study or interpretation (as opposed to poetic/oral reading here and there) is like choosing to walk along a river on huge boulders that block your way, then hopping over to a parallel set of boulders with a little groove etched in them, and essentially not knowing where you’re going or even where the river is anymore.  Instead, we ought to choose a path beside a level stream, right there with the flow of the language.

Why not use versions that have incorporated changes in language in order to communicate in the present day?  We ought not to use language that’s 400 years old willy-nilly or with blinders pulled over our eyes, such as with certain churches that proudly carry banners proclaiming they are KJV-only.  And why not use versions that have employed recent archaeological finds?

I sometimes use a parallel “text comparison” function in my Bible software.  There’s a parallel that I find helpful.  I’ve chosen these versions for this purpose:

ASV 1901 | CSB | ESV | ISV | MSG | NET
NASB95 PARA | NEB | NIV2011 | NJB | NRSV | RSV

A couple of these are admittedly a bit unwieldy in certain respects, but most of them are decades old, not four centuries old.  These translations may not be “all over the map” in some estimations, but I do find a helpful smattering here.  Three or four mechanical ones, one loose paraphrase, some widely used standards, some middle-of-the-road, and a couple that are off the beaten path.

When I originally wrote about having seen the parallel KJV/NKJV, a distant relative took me to task, essentially saying it was none of my business which Bible someone read.  I do affirm that any Bible is better that no Bible at all, but in this era, if there are multiple versions available to a person, the choice ought to be something other than the KJV.  For those who feel they only want “literal” translations, I would say this:  all translations make interpretive decisions.  Every single one of them.  No “perfect” “literal” translation exists; when one undertakes to compare different versions, the process tends to aid in interpretation.

~ ~ ~

For the last 2-3 months, an opportunity has been brewing for me to facilitate/lead a small group.  It soon became clear that it made sense for me to co-facilitate with Roy, and we are set to dig into the JohnGospel.  Roy and I don’t know each other well, but every indication says that we could be friends.  He reached to me, having noticed something I said in a meeting.  In a sense, I think he was comparing my “take” on Bible study to that of the common person.  Later, I reached to him, and we’ve talked a little.  We both have a great interest in actually studying our scriptures instead of things superimposed on them . . . which brings me to more comparisons.

The acronym REACH serves as an outline for a “Bible study” that’s being used by other small groups in this program.

Receive the gospel

Enlist in the body

Abide in His presence

Contribute to His cause

Heed His commands

While the material found therein appears “scriptural” in that it refers to scripture “verses,” it is more theological than scripture-based.  In other words, it starts with theological concepts or topics and looks for “scripture verses” to attach to them.  That’s backwards.  Christian clichés and fluffy discussion questions might on the surface be relational and might serve general, devotional purposes, but they don’t often pay the right kind of attention to scripture texts.  REACH’s usage of scripture texts doesn’t compare well to responsible, contextual readings.

~ ~ ~

As Paul wrote in the letter we call “2nd Corinthians,”¹ “You are our letter.”  I don’t think Paul was making the point that living is more important than reading or studying texts, but he did seem to have the idea that the proof was in the pudding, i.e., whatever he had written to those Corinthian Christians should have been displayed in their lives.  It still serves well for us to realize that we are living ambassadors, although we are not necessarily carrying any documents with us at all.  We are “texts,” in a sense, and it’s good to ponder the potential comparison of (a) what people read in us and (b) what they read in scriptures.²

Leaders of established, Google-searchable (I can’t say “Yellow Pages” anymore, as I did here, nearly 8 years ago) churches almost always write, or at least reuse, texts about their identity and beliefs.  The “what we believe” explanations from websites and brochures and pamphlets and signs do communicate things, enabling the shopper to “compare.”

Seen in the best possible light, the very best creeds strike me as a nod to what is expected of the creed-makers.  Passersby/visitors/searchers have come to expect these “belief” statements, so councils and boards and pastorates compose creeds.  I mean, if you can’t find “what they believe” on their website, maybe they’re not a real church, right?  Para-church organizations also feel compelled to create such statements; the best ones are brief, simply pointing the reader to God, the scriptural texts, and possibly a basic philosophy or raison d’etre.  Other creeds are verbose, appearing to offer unrequested rebuttals to yet other creeds.  When a creedwriter reads something in another church creed, in a theology book, or on a website that he doesn’t agree with, he might feel the need to assert the contrary position—you know, for comparison’s sake.

I’ve never seen a single church creed-text that was above scrutiny, as I compare them to the messages contained in our scriptures.  Personally, I become dejected at the suggestion that I must agree with a board or a pastor (who might be less informed or studied than I) on certain points.  He might well be a better “living letter” than I am, but that doesn’t help me in dealing with a creed.


¹ Likely, “2nd Corinthians” would be at least the 3rd letter to them, because 1st Corinthians 5:9 refers to a previous letter.

² For a time in my life, I had these symbols on my cars.  I realized that there were times my actions on the road didn’t speak well of inner peace or grace, or ambassadorship for the Lord, or following Him in any sense, so I did the easy thing:  I stopped putting them on my car!

Memory

Once upon a church life, I was influenced by various wonderful adults who not only lived well themselves but who poured so much of themselves into the teaching of children.  In my church’s program, we typically changed teachers every three to six months. At the moment, I remember Peggy, Dot & Lou, and Judy & Mike as teachers specifically, but there were many others.  Memory does fade. . . .

A few in our circles called it “Sunday School.” Most of us, though, called it “Bible class” or just “class.”  At our church, Bible classes were always after the regular assembly.  The church gathered as a whole first, for about an hour and 15 minutes, and then we broke up into various classrooms, both on the lower floor and the upper.  After we moved to our classrooms, George or John would announce over the PA system, for all to hear, that “classes may now begin and will be dismissed in 45 minutes.”  (On Wednesday nights, it was 35 minutes.  I don’t know how teachers did anything in that short a time, but attention spans were better then, so I suppose more content could be packed into shorter time periods.)

Monitoring the Brain's Memory-Making Cells | National Institutes of Health  (NIH)

I learned a lot during those years in church Bible classes.  A lot.  I’m ever grateful for church, camp, and Vacation Bible school experiences.  I heard biblical stories and learned about the Lord Jesus, Moses, Joshua, King David, Paul’s missionary journeys, and more.  And I learned and memorized. . . .

In VBS, for a few years, it was lists that I memorized.  Lists of plagues and judges and sons of Jacob and apostles.  And the books of the Bible, of course.  There were also memory verses.  I vaguely recall going around the circle when we got to class to see who had learned his memory verse. 

At Camp Manatawny, where I was a summer camper (9 years) and a staff member (mostly later, 7-8 years), memorization was also emphasized.  I don’t know whether this was a Camp Board policy, but it was certainly prevalent, if not ubiquitous, for campers to have time devoted to memorization.  In high school, this practice did not subside in the slightest.  Rather, there was a heightened emphasis on memory for older campers.  During Senior High Week, after lunch, there was a rest period that allowed for final studying of the text block to be memorized.  Roughly a fourth of us would go up to the Rec Hall during the last 15 minutes of rest period while some just stayed in the cabin and rested.  One of the Bible teachers would hand out sheets of paper, and we would write (not recite) the memory passage quietly.  Quietly.  And those words sunk into my heart.

“If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, . . .”

“You are a royal priesthood, a chosen nation, a people for God’s own possession. . . .”

“He is the image of the invisible God. . . .”

“The Word became flesh. . . .”

“Have this attitude in yourselves, which also was in Christ Jesus. . . .”

(I checked the above wording out of curiosity, after having typed the words from memory. One of those passages was ingrained to the point that it made it into a song I wrote, some 20 years later.)

The memory passages for Senior High Week were usually 4-6 verses long.  Philippians 2, Philippians 4, Hebrews 11 and 12, Colossians 1, Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 13, and more. I remember once that I memorized four or five verses out of 2nd Peter 2 instead of the intended 1st Peter 2.  I can’t remember if they gave me credit or not, and I don’t remember feeling too annoyed with myself for making a mistake.  Even then, I was probably aware that anything memorized was probably a good thing, even if I didn’t get credit and a certificate. 

I almost always pursued these memory opportunities with energy.  Later, of my own accord, I would memorize even longer passages a few times.  I memorized a longer section from Hebrews 12, and all of Peter’s Pentecost sermon from Acts 2.

I was moving in the right direction.  The memory lists and verses of youth instilled a habit and a consciousness of the importance of the scriptures.  The practice of memorizing text blocks during the teen years was better.  Memorizing longer sections such as the Peter sermon was even better.

Sadly, I can’t even remember the last time I memorized something.

But I do know far more about texts and the study of them than I did.  And I’m committed to contextual, responsible study that seeks more and more to understand the significant dialogues in which these texts are engaged. I try to read, interpret, and understand each text on its own terms.

Since I have had a fairly good diet of scripture throughout my life, and since I’ve had the great blessing of knowing many people who knew and loved God, I suppose that memorizing a “verse” might serve some value.  It would stimulate thoughts based on my larger repertoire or past nutrition (pick your metaphor).  However, I am far more convinced that if one only knows and memorizes a verse or a phrase, he is likely missing the meaning.  No verse stands alone.  (See here for more on this point.) It simply doesn’t.  “I can do all things through Christ which who strengthens me” only has its intended meaning within its context.  We might take that those words and attempt to extrapolate so we can feel good about what we are doing that day . . . but at that point we are no longer seeking the meaning of what Paul wrote by God’s inspiration.

Memories of learning are good.  They make me appreciative.  Memorizing seems to have served a purpose for me.  Knowing the literary and historical contexts of scripture texts serves a better purpose for the maturing believer. 

It’s a complicated world

A few years ago, a colleague looked at me disbelievingly with his head tilted when I suggested that the world is infinitely more complicated than it was when we were kids.  I think he existed in a world of blissful unknowing.  Although a very smart and capable person, he didn’t seem naturally to ponder the inner workings of things.  I’m speaking specifically of technology here.

Things have only gotten more complicated in the intervening years.  In my world, rarely a day goes by now without something not working.  The complications often have layers and tentacles.  There are multiple layers, for instance, of software construction, of “sales and service,” and of attention to detail (or lack of it).

Recently, I tried to unlock a no-longer-used smart phone so I can sell it.  I followed the instructions I’d been given previously.  The phone had been on an installment plan, but I paid it off outright.  Although my account shows the payment, something in the system still hasn’t been updated, it seems.  It could be that it actually took more than 60 days for this cycle to be completed, whereas the representative didn’t know how long it would take.  The lack of accurate information is one of the complications we deal with.

Likely, a half-dozen things had to happen for that system to work, and I’m guessing someone forgot to update the update, or upgrade the new protocol that someone else had required at some point along the way.  Since some little step wasn’t handled, the system told me I hadn’t paid off my phone, which I had.  I called customer service, and of course I got the unintelligent IVR (“Intelligent Voice Response”) system. These are never (NEVER) set up to handle whatever I am asking, so I always (ALLLWAYS) have to say “representative!” in my most authoritative, annoyed voice (which never [NEVER] helps, because no one is listening).  The system says it will text me with information.  It sends me a text indicating the same inaccurate news I’d gotten on the website to begin with.  I will wait a few more days and try again.  Maybe there is some “update” or software patch that was applied, and maybe it takes 30 more days to enable the unlocking.  Of course, representatives and IVRs and websites FAQs should communicate these kinds of things in the first place, so customers wouldn’t waste their time and grow frustrated, but I’ve come to expect ineptitude, so I wasn’t really even that frustrated.

One of my (many) problems is that I know just enough about IT stuff to think I know what might have happened.  In another sector of the tech world, within the last week, I made an IT professional aware of an issue, which he tried immediately to correct, having missed a step himself.  One thing got better, and another didn’t.  I waited and tried again in a few days.  Yet another problem.  He fixed it again, and it worked this time.  Now, he should not have had to do any of this if the system had been designed well to begin with.  But the world is complicated, and he is but a cog in a giant machine.

Although I turn out to have on-target instincts about these things some of the time, I’m often wrong, too.  With the cell phone company, it’s impossible to predict whether I’ll finally get someone on the phone who knows what s/he is talking about.  Some people know; some don’t.  The people at the “authorized retailer” store sometimes know more than the call center, but the retail reps aren’t enabled to fix everything.  A friend who runs his own enterprise often spends disproportionate amounts of time working on, reporting, and following up on technology issues.  He would also tell you that he sometimes discovers what’s nonfunctional sooner (and more aptly) than the people who designed the system.  It takes great energy and persistence to follow these complications through to resolution . . . only to have them “break” again with the next update of some component.

The smartest tech reps are the ones who know what they don’t know.  (They also know what they can and can’t do.)  The ones who act like they know (or act like they can), are the most frustrating.  And they are probably Mac and iPhone users who just let stuff happen, unaware, and hopeful that it will keep working!

The complications in living are real, and the sheer number of complications grows persistently.  All this is a first-world problem, I know. And the blessing of having a smart phone—or a PC, or a smart TV, or bluetooth headphones, or whatever—is just as real as the frustrations of the attendant complications.

And what of the complications of “church”?  If only church were reduced to what’s central, or even to a few things that are important. . . .

Legalism and “compliance”

Compliance.

Legalism.

Both of these words engender negative reactions, if not outright rebellion, in my head.

I’m put off by the shallow, shadow-chasing enterprise that I find “compliance” to be in the financial world.   I imagine it’s very similar in the insurance and healthcare worlds.  Essentially, if we approach every question on the basis of compliance with rules, we end up with a watered-down nothingness that helps no one.  On the other hand, I do understand that if an institution is found to be systemically non-compliant, serious ramifications may result.

“Legalism” and “legalistic” entered my vocabulary sometime in my late teens or early twenties, as I became aware that the particular denomination in which I was raised is broadly accused of legalistic approaches.  My particular congregation was considerably left of center in most respects, but the effects of fear-based legalism sometimes surfaced.  Even today, having moved beyond that a great deal of the denominational “stuff,” I am regularly reminded of said stuff second-hand.

If we approach every God-question on the basis of what the law says, we might just end up treading water.  On the other hand, if one starts with central questions such as who God is and what God wants, or even what makes sense and what gets to the heart of the matter . . . well, then we might be moving along with the intent and not flailing about or swimming upstream.

Some seem to have the cockles of their hearts warmed by complying with rules and discovering new regulations with which to comply or align.  They might even love finding fault with those who don’t fall into line with supposedly “scriptural” positions.  Orthodoxy, though, is highly overrated.  Compliant and legalistic mindsets extend to the other side of the ideological spectrum, too.  If one doesn’t kowtow to the current notion of “wokeness,” for instance, s/he is seen as noncompliant by a different set of forces with power.

It’s a fearful existence, this rule-based “compliance.”